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Should it be a criminal offence to smoke in a car with a child present?
10:00am Wednesday 12th February 2014 in News
Yes, says Ed Turner, deputy leader of Oxford City Council and the Labour group: THERE is a wealth of medical evidence to tell us that smoking in cars is enormously dangerous, especially to children.
Smoke can linger in cars for hours, even with the window open; it can have particularly damaging effects on children, increasing the risk of asthma, chest infections, and even cot death; and around 300,000 children a year require medical assistance as a result of smoking in cars (by my calculations, that would mean around 600 in Oxford alone).
There are two arguments commonly advanced against a ban.
The first is that it is an incursion upon the private space of individuals.
Such a view is hideously inconsistent: after all, we (quite rightly) ban smoking in places like bars and restaurants, in order to protect fellow customers and staff from the effects of passive smoking.
Children sitting in a car are intrinsically much less likely to be able to move away from the smoke, tell the smokers to stop, or make an informed choice about the dangers they face by being there, and they are at greater health risk than adults from the effects of others’ smoke.
Indeed, it is the opponents of a ban who are denying civil liberties here, namely the freedom of children to breathe clean air.
The second argument is that the law cannot be effectively enforced, and thus it should not happen.
This is hardly persuasive either: there are plenty of laws, including those concerning cars, where offences may not be immediately detected (such as the requirement to wear a seat belt, or the ban on driving under the influence of illegal drugs) but where, quite rightly, a ban is in force in the interests of public safety.
It is also rather strange that the tobacco lobby are the people saying we should look to educate parents on the dangers of smoking around children as an alternative to legislation, whereas most of what these people say seems to be about why smoking is not such a bad thing after all.
Many people still alive began smoking before its dangers were fully understood, and find it hard to stop.
Others will have started while aware of the dangers (with some 100,000 smoking-related deaths per year).
As a society, we should educate people about smoking’s dangers and help people quit, but we should also legislate to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Small children, trapped in a car, come pretty high up on that list in my book.
No, says Zoe Patrick, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Oxfordshire County Council: WHEN the ban on smoking in public places came into force some years ago, this was an excellent law which I am sure has improved the health of the nation.
Everyone knows that smoking is harmful to health and, in particular, to our young children.
I would therefore like to agree that to ban smoking in cars with children sounds like an excellent idea, if only it could be enforceable.
Having been a previous member of Thames Valley Police Authority, I know only too well how police have to prioritise their time in catching criminals and this would only add yet another ‘crime’ for them to deal with.
We know already how difficult it is to enforce people driving cars while on mobile phones or not wearing seat belts, and catching every motorist driving over 30 mph in urban areas. I would expect we would need twice as many police officers as we do now.
Also, if a police officer stops a car and enforces a fine, he cannot follow the motorist back home and stop him smoking in his own house with a child in the same room.
This debate is all about responsible parenting, and I would sincerely hope that any parent who smokes would not do so while in a car with children.
Despite knowing that smoking during pregnancy is harming that baby directly in a mother’s womb, is anyone considering a ban on smoking for pregnant mums?
Would we go so far as to say that no-one can smoke in their own home with children in the same room?
A responsible parent will go outside the house to smoke, in the same way that people now smoke outside a public place, not inside.
If this ban is agreed, then how much longer will it be before there is a ban on buying children beef burgers, sweets and fizzy drinks?
Also, if a parent is caught smoking in a car with their child, does that then make them a criminal who will be referred to social services?
Smoking in a car does not make the driver guilty of dangerous driving, but we can argue it does make the driver guilty of exposing the child to a potential danger.
I am very concerned that we could be getting into territory which has not been fully explored with regards to police enforcement legislation.
Much as I would like to see this ban, I feel that more work needs to be done with the police to see how practical it is and how it can be enforced.
I just hope that raising this issue in Parliament sends out a clear message to all parents who smoke that smoking in a car with their children inside could seriously damage their health.
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