Health campaigners have welcomed the launch of a Government consultation which will bring the protection of children from tobacco smoke in cars a step closer.
North East campaign group Fresh said legislation protecting children from having to breathe in second-hand smoke in cars would be “incredibly popular”.
The organisation has urged ministers to bring in the regulation banning smoke in vehicles where children under the age of 18 are present, in England, by next year. The consultation on the initiative will run for six weeks.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “Legislation protecting children from having to breathe in second-hand smoke in cars would be incredibly popular, and we support it. Children hate adults smoking around them, but do not always have a voice – it is vital they deserve the protection of the law.
“Some people may believe opening a car window will protect their children from the toxic fumes, but cars are confined spaces and this is not effective. Smoke contains poisons like arsenic and it lingers, resulting in thousands of children made ill from breathing in smoke every year.”
In February, MPs voted in favour of legislation that could see the move brought forward under the Children and Families Act.
As many as 84,000 youngsters are estimated to be exposed to second-hand smoke in the home or car in the North East. It is estimated that in the region 13,000 youngsters need hospital or GP treatment every year from breathing in smoke.
Former smoker Louise Morris, 38, of Walker, Newcastle, used to light up in the car with her young daughter in the backseat, before quitting the habit six years ago.
The mother-of-one, who has daughter, Leah, nine, said: “I used to smoke in the car because I found it relaxing and it was easy do. I used to have just the driver’s window down because I didn’t realise at the time the dangers of smoking in a confined space.
“I feel quite awful about it now as I was oblivious to what damage it could do, but fortunately my daughter has no respiratory difficulties. It’s brilliant that a consultation has been launched but I think if legislation is brought in it then it will be very hard to enforce. But anything that helps to educate people about the dangers of smoking in cars with children is a good thing.”
Research by the British Lung Foundation has shown that a single cigarette smoked in a moving car with a window half open, exposes a child in the backseat to around two-thirds as much second-hand smoke as in an average smoke-filled pub of yesteryear.
Consultation documents published suggest enforcement will be largely taken forward by local police officers in conjunction with their wider functions on road safety. Under existing powers, police officers would be able to request that a vehicle stops if they suspect that an offence is being committed. Local authorities would also be able to enforce the proposed regulations, by authorising officers, but would not have the powers to stop moving vehicles.