Does a ban on smoking in cars with child passengers go far enough, or is it an “utterly pointless” exercise? Michael Alexander reports.
New legislation that makes it illegal to smoke in a car with anyone under the age of 18 has come into force in Scotland.
Anyone caught breaking the law by lighting up in a private vehicle with someone under 18 on board now faces an on-the-spot penalty of £100 or a fine of up to £1,000 if convicted at court.
Smokers’ group Forest has branded the regulations “patronising and unnecessary”.
But the British Medical Association (BMA) has called on the Scottish Government to go even further and introduce a complete ban on smoking in vehicles.
Dr Peter Bennie, BMA Scotland chairman, said: “The ban on smoking in cars with children is an important first step and we welcome this move to protect our most vulnerable.
“Doctors witness first-hand the devastating effects of smoking-related harms on their patients.
“Children are still developing physically and, as a result, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
“When someone smokes in a vehicle it creates a concentrated source of exposure to second-hand smoke.
“An outright ban on smoking in vehicles would ensure that adults, and particularly vulnerable adults, who may be unable to object to others smoking while they are present, are also protected. This would also be easier to enforce.”
The Smoking Prohibition (Children in Motor Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by MSPs almost a year ago, with the aim of protecting young people from second-hand smoke, which can cause serious conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma.
Research shows the toxic particles in second-hand smoke can reach harmful concentrations within a minute of lighting a cigarette in a car, and this is particularly dangerous to children.
The Scottish Government said the measure is part of its plans to create a “tobacco-free generation” by 2034, defined as a smoking rate of less than 5%.
Although smoking prevalence in Scotland has decreased gradually over time, tobacco use is associated with over 10,000 deaths and around 128,000 hospital admissions every year.
The new rules do not apply if you or someone in the car is smoking with an electronic cigarette (vaping).
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Our target to reduce the proportion of children exposed in the home from 12% to 6% by 2020 has been met five years early.
“The ban on smoking in cars will help to build on that success by reinforcing the message that the toxic fumes from cigarette smoke are harmful – particularly to children.”
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland, said the move sends a clear message that children should grow up in a smoke-free environment.
She said: “The most recent data shows that about one in six 15-year-olds are sometimes or often exposed to second-hand smoke in the car.
“Similar laws are fast becoming the norm around the world, from Australia and Canada to the United States, France and Ireland. Scotland’s children deserve the same protection.”
Dr Steve Turner, officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Today is a significant step forward in the protection of children against second hand smoke.”
But other campaigners have criticised the new law.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “The regulations are patronising and unnecessary. Very few adults smoke in cars with children. Smokers know it’s inconsiderate and the overwhelming majority don’t do it.
“So few people smoke when there’s a child in the car it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
He added: “The law is a classic example of virtue signalling. It’s utterly pointless and a complete waste of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.”
A law banning smoking in vehicles carrying children came into force in England and Wales in October last year.
Previous efforts to clamp down on smoking and improve health in Scotland include a ban on smoking in public places which came into force 10 years ago – although critics have highlighted its negative impact on the pub and club trade.
It has also been illegal since 2007 for under-18-year-olds to buy tobacco products in Scotland.