Scotland is moving forward on the road to prohibiting smoking in cars with children on board.
A Member’s Bill to introduce the legislation has already been launched at the Scottish Parliament, something ASH Scotland has fully supported.
In addition, the Scottish Government has recently taken a more direct interest in the subject, through its consultation on electronic cigarettes and tobacco control. The consultation asked if it should be an offence for an adult to smoke in a vehicle carrying someone under the age of 18.
Our clear answer is “yes” – a view reflected by the Scottish public. A 2014 YouGov poll revealed that 75% of Scottish adults agree that smoking should be banned in cars that are carrying children under-18.
Two of ASH Scotland’s primary aims are to protect people from second-hand smoke and to limit the number of young people taking up smoking.
Smoking in cars harms both the smoker and others in the vehicle, because of health hazards posed by inhaling second-hand smoke (SHS), to which children are particularly vulnerable.
One study measured the tiny airborne particulate matter present in air pollutants during everyday car journeys of around 30 minutes. It found the average concentration of particulate matter in the vehicles was around one-third of that found in Scottish pubs prior to the smoking ban. The average levels exceeded World Health Organisation guidance for exposure over 24 hours – by several times.
Evidence of the harm of inhaling SHS is well established, and exposure to the pollutants and carcinogens in SHS increases the risk of acute and chronic health conditions, hospital admission, and death.
Children and young people exposed to SHS in vehicles face a higher risk of harm to their health for several reasons: smaller airways, faster rates of breathing, and less developed immune systems all contribute them breathing in larger amounts of particulates.
Children are also less likely to be able to choose whether or not someone else in the vehicle is smoking or to alter the ventilation in a car.
There is also the harm of children and young people starting to smoke because they see adults doing it. One study shows children’s exposure to smoking in cars was clearly associated with an increased risk of them being current smokers or starting to smoke. So cutting children and young people’s exposure to smoking in vehicles will not only prevent them from the dangers of SHS, but may also reduce the likelihood of them using tobacco.
We believe the ban can be effectively enforced by the police. The performance of Scottish police forces in enforcing seat belt and mobile phone laws suggests that this can be done. Having the legislation focus on cars with children bypasses concerns over interference in people’s private lives. Arguing that adults should be allowed to harm themselves is one thing, but leaves us with the clear principle that they should not cause harm to children.
Our neighbours in England and Wales have already committed to bringing in the ban and Ireland has just passed legislation to do so. We want to see Scotland follow their lead.
Scotland has consistently tackled the harms caused by tobacco use. Now we must once again take the opportunity to introduce a vital measure that will help reduce people’s exposure to high concentrations of a toxic substance in very enclosed spaces.