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Should the Assembly ban smoking in cars?

This week, the Assembly debated the issue of smoking in cars when children are passengers and called on the Health Minister to introduce a law to protect children in cars from second hand smoke. John McCallister MLA proposed the motion for debate.

In responding to the debate, the Health Minister, Mr Edwin Poots MLA, expressed his support for a ban. He talked about the ‘clear health risks associated with exposure to second-hand smoke’ and the fact that ‘children are more vulnerable because they breathe more quickly than adults and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight’.

The Minister also referred to the Royal College of Physicians’ 2010 report, titled ‘Passive smoking and children’, which states that children who are exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased risk of asthma, lower-respiratory infections, bronchitis, middle-ear disease, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome.

A law to make public places smoke free was introduced in 2007, with the aim of protecting people from being exposed to second-hand smoke in their workplaces, such as restaurants and pubs. Over the last couple of years, a number of organisations, including Cancer Research, have been calling for the ban to be extended to cover smoking in cars when children are present.

However, David McClarty MLA put forward some arguments against a ban He believes that it would be difficult to enforce, saying ‘Although it is relatively easy to pick out someone who is using a mobile phone while driving or someone who is not wearing a seatbelt, it is less obvious whether a person is smoking in a car in the presence of young people under the age of 16. Age is difficult to estimate. .. Must we stop those people to ask for ID…?’

He further argued that it is not for the Assembly to interfere with the responsibilities of parents: ‘A responsible and informed parent will know not to smoke in the presence of a child, whether in a car or a living room, in order to protect that child’s well-being. We do not need a law to tell us to do that…’

Mr Clarty also warned that if the Assembly bans smoking in cars to protect children, they might then have to consider banning smoking in the home. He believes that, by introducing such laws, the Assembly would be‘overstepping the mark by invading private lives and space’ and that ‘a private vehicle is as much a private space as a home.’

What do you think? Answer our poll question. If you feel strongly about this issue, write to your MLAs and the Minister for Health to let them know your views.