A law being implemented this year will prohibit all drivers in England from smoking in their cars if they are carrying children as passengers. The ban has been hailed as a victory for young people’s health by anti-smoking activist groups.
The move, which will become law on 1 October, follows a similar ban in Wales and aims to protect young people under 18 from second-hand smoke. Scotland is also considering introducing a ban.
British Lung Foundation figures show that around 185,000 children between the ages of 11-15 in England are exposed to potentially toxic concentrations of second-hand smoke in their family car every day or most days.
Many anti-smoking organizations were pleased with the decision, including the British Lung Foundation. Dr. Penny Woods, a representative of the organization, called it a "tremendous victory" and had this to add.
"We urge the Government to show the same commitment to introduce standardised packaging for all tobacco products, in order to protect the 200,000 children taking up smoking every year in this country. We are certain that these measures together will prove to be two of the most significant milestones for public health since the smoke-free legislation of 2007."
The rationale for smoking bans posits that smoking is optional, whereas breathing is not. Therefore, proponents say, smoking bans are enforced to protect people from the effects of second-hand smoke, which include an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, emphysema, and other diseases. They found high concentrations of blood cotinine levels were associated with a 50-60 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Smoking during pregnancy appears to affect a newborn's behavior in ways similar to infants whose mothers used heroin or other illegal drugs, study findings suggest.
Laws implementing bans have been introduced by many countries in various forms over the years, with some legislators citing scientific evidence that shows tobacco smoking is harmful to the smokers themselves and to those inhaling second-hand smoke.
Jane Ellison, Public Health Minister, also celebrated the decision.
"Three million children are exposed to second hand smoke in cars, putting their health at risk. We know that many of them feel embarrassed or frightened to ask adults to stop smoking which is why the regulations are an important step in protecting children from the harms of secondhand smoke."
Passive smoke in children can increase the risk of asthma, meningitis and cot death, say public health experts.
While many support a ban, some say it is an unnecessary intrusion. Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said the legislation was excessive.
"The overwhelming majority of smokers know it's inconsiderate to smoke in a car with children and they don't do it. They don't need the state micro-managing their lives," he said.
"The police won't be able to enforce the law on their own so the government will need a small army of snoopers to report people."