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Children on board? Smoking in cars may be banned

Health Minister James Reilly says he’s in favour of legislating on smoking in cars.

Image: Clive Gee/PA

Updated, 08.56

CARS CARRYING CHILDREN under the age of 16 could be liable for a smoking ban.

Health Minister James Reilly made the warning in answer to a question from FF TD Sean Fleming last Thursday. Fleming asked about Reilly’s “plans to introduce a ban on smoking in cars which are transporting children under 16 years”.

Reilly answered that he had noted that some other countries had introduced laws in relation to smoking in cars carrying children and that his department was now also considering “proposals relating to smoking in cars” as part of the Tobacco Policy Review. A decision is likely within months. He added that he was “in favour of legislating in this area” but would need to “mobilise public support” for such a move.

This was Reilly’s complete answer (via KildareStreet.com):

It is recognised that smoking in cars exposes all the occupants to harmful environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). ETS is a carcinogen and contains the same cancer-causing substances and toxic agents that are inhaled by the smoker. There is no safe level of exposure to ETS.

Exposure to cigarette smoke is particularly dangerous in enclosed spaces, such as cars, and parents and others with responsibility for the welfare of children have a particular responsibility to ensure that such exposure does not take place.

While legislative measures have been introduced in a small number of countries in relation to smoking in cars with children the nature of the measures and of the accompanying compliance and enforcement arrangements have varied significantly. In some jurisdictions smoking in cars is treated as a driving offence while in other jurisdictions it has taken the form of an education tool aimed at highlighting the dangers of smoking in cars. Any proposal to introduce a ban on smoking in cars must, therefore, be evidence based, with data on the extent to which it occurs and the actual risks to public health. Consideration will also need to be given as to the extent to which it may be appropriate to deal with the issue as a road safety and a public health issue.

Before any new measures in this area are considered, it will, at the outset, be necessary to establish the extent of the problem. Thereafter, the successful introduction of measures with regard to smoking in cars will benefit from the roll-out of a public information and education campaign to mobilise public support.

A similar approach proved very successful in the introduction of the smoke free at work initiative and other tobacco control initiatives in the interim. These provisions were underpinned by a clear evidence-base, good planning, the mobilisation of public opinion by way of a public education and information campaign, and simple, clear and enforceable legislation.

Proposals relating to smoking in cars are being considered in the context of the Tobacco Policy Review currently underway in my Department and are expected to be completed and submitted to me within a matter of months. I have already signalled that I am in favour of legislating in this area but would like to see a public information and education campaign to highlight the dangers associated with exposure to ETS in cars and to mobilise public support in advance of the introduction of legislation.

The answer was spotted by Ronan McGreevy of the Irish Times who reports that legislation could range anywhere from banning smoking in cars where children are present to a complete ban on smoking in private cars.

This morning Professor Luke Clancy of St James’s Hospital said he would back a ban on smoking in cars – but only if the ban was comprehensive and applied to all motorists.

He told Morning Ireland that the previous smoking ban had begun to flourish “when people understood the risk” they were posing – because “they weren’t prepared to harm others.”

“If you did this, [only enforcing it for drivers] with children in cars… that to me would seem to exclude pregnant women, who are the group likely to cause most harm to their children by smoking.”

Additional reporting by Gavan Reilly

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