Wales presses ahead with smoking ban in vehicles carrying children

Dr Amy Brown is quoted in an article in the Western Mail on how smoking in cars with children will be banned in Wales.

First Minister Carwyn Jones and Health Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed the move to follow England's lead, with a consultation set to launch "shortly".

It said a ban in Wales would protect children from the effects of passive smoking - claiming Wales was the first to consider a plan.

It could mean that, if a ban is introduced, those who fail to comply with it could face fines and points on their driving licences.

Ministers' decision to adopt a ban came alongside new research, by researchers at Cardiff University, which showed the number of children being exposed to smoking in private vehicles had declined.

But the government claimed a "sizeable minority" of young people were still being exposed to second-hand smoke despite rates of smoking falling in Wales.

The plans were welcomed by health and campaign groups, but smokers' groups said it was "excessive and unnecessary". Unveiling the plans for a consultation, Mr Jones said: "In 2012, we launched the Fresh Start Wales campaign to promote smoke-free cars carrying children and raise awareness to parents and others the risk their smoking poses to the health of children.

"We made clear throughout that campaign we would consider the possibility of legislation when evidence of prevalence of smoking in cars carrying children in Wales is available in the summer of 2014.

"While I welcome the fact the number of children being exposed to smoking in cars has declined, a sizeable minority of young people are still being exposed and adults continue to smoke in their cars when children are present.

"There is also evidence from the primary school survey that inequalities in children's exposure to second hand smoke remains, so we will press ahead with plans to ban people smoking in cars carrying children."

The research found the number of people who don't allow smoking in their main car had gone up from 71% in 2011 to 76% last year and that awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke had risen in the last three years.

But one in 10 children in Wales continue to be exposed to smoke in family cars, researchers found. And one in five children with a parent who smokes say adults continue to light up in the family vehicle.

More than four out of five people surveyed agreed with a ban , reaching 84% in November last year. Another nine out of 10 people said a ban wouldn't affect them.

Cardiff University began working with the Welsh Government on the issue of children's passive smoking in 2006. Graham Moore, a research fellow at Cardiff University and the lead on the study, said the Welsh Government was taking a "groundbreaking step".

"Interventions like plastic bag charges are described by psychologists as 'nudges', gently steering people towards better behaviour. Today's smoking ban is more of a 'shove' - direct legislation to safeguard and protect children," he said.

A vote in Westminster earlier this year passed by a majority of 269, giving Ministers the power to introduce a ban. The UK Government has indicated it will look to introduce a ban before the next general election in 2015.

Prof Drakeford said: "The research findings clearly show there is public support for not allowing smoking in cars when carrying children and that this support - and awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke - have increased over the last three years.

"Although the research findings show that progress has been made in reducing children's exposure to second-hand smoke in cars, we now believe the introduction of regulations to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying under-18s is needed as the final piece in the jigsaw to eliminate the harm and end persistent inequalities in exposure. We will now consult on these proposals and I urge people to have their say."

"  Smokers' group Forest criticised the plan, saying a ban was "excessive and unnecessary".Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "Smoking in cars with children has been in decline for years. Today very few people do it because the overwhelming majority of smokers accept that it's inconsiderate.

"According to research less than 10% of people will be affected by legislation, which will be impossible to enforce, so what's the point? "This is a classic case of government flexing its muscles and introducing legislation just because it can."

But the move was welcomed by medical and campaign groups, who say the evidence suggests a ban would protect children's health.

Welsh Secretary of the BMA in Wales, Dr Richard Lewis, described it as an "important step forward in reducing tobacco harm" to children.

"Children are still developing physically and, as a result, they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke," he said. "Adults who smoke in the presence of children are not acting in the children's best interest; therefore it is the Welsh Government's duty to change legislation in order to protect them."

Chris Mulholland, head of the British Lung Foundation in Wales, said the legislation would be "vital" to protecting child health.

He said: "After two years of awareness raising, the number of children exposed to second-hand smoke in cars remains unacceptably high, particularly for those children from poorer backgrounds. There is tremendous public support for this, not least from children themselves. We look forward to this being enacted as soon as possible."

Elen De Lacy, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales, said: "Concentrations of tobacco smoke inside a car can reach dangerous levels very quickly. We welcome the findings that children's exposure to secondhand smoke has reduced but there is more to be done. The time has come for a ban to be introduced to prevent any further harm to children in Wales."

Dr Amy Brown, senior lecturer in public health at Swansea University, said: "The announcement that smoking will be banned in cars carrying children is extremely good news for the health and wellbeing of our children in Wales. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke. Breathing in smoke in this way has been linked to asthma and infections in children alongside sudden infant death syndrome in babies.

"Protecting children who are powerless to move away from the smoke, especially in cars, is vital."

John Mathias, national director at Asthma UK Cymru, said: 'We fully support calls on parents and carers not to smoke in cars, particularly in the presence of children, as secondhand smoke has been proven to be harmful to children, causing asthma and triggering attacks.

"In addition, research suggests that children are more likely to start smoking if their parents or older siblings smoke so we actively encourage parents to not smoke around children and we ask them to really consider the impact this has on their health and development."