The Welsh government may consider introducing a ban on smoking in cars with children, if existing anti-smoking legislation fails to reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
First minister Carwyn Jones confirmed that the country may introduce new legislation in the current five-year Assembly term, making Wales the first country in Europe to ban smoking in vehicles carrying children.
Such legislation has already been introduced in Australia, eight out of ten provinces in Canada, five US states, South Africa and Bahrain.
Speaking yesterday (July 13th), Mr Jones revealed that the primary aim of such a move would be to protect children from secondhand smoke, while also encouraging adults to quit.
“Smoking remains the single major cause of preventable and premature death in Wales. Every year around 5,600 people die from smoking-related illnesses,” he said.
“Children are particularly at risk from secondhand smoke, especially in vehicles where a confined space means there is no respite from the harm of the toxic chemicals in cigarettes.”
The first minister pointed out that the Welsh government is committed to taking “tough action” to tackle health inequalities, particularly the harm caused by tobacco use.
He noted: “Wales was the first UK country to vote in favour of a ban on smoking in public places and if necessary we will not shy away from considering the introduction of progressive legislation to further protect children from secondhand smoke.”
According to the recent Health Behaviour in School Age Children survey, one in five Welsh children, aged 11 to 16, said they were exposed to smoke last time they were in a car.
The problem is particularly serious for children from deprived backgrounds, who were found to be twice as likely as those from more affluent families to report being exposed.
Mr Jones revealed that in a recent debate held as part of the Welsh government’s consultation on its draft Tobacco Control Action Plan for Wales, the majority of responses were in favour of a ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
He added: “We will mount a renewed campaign to tackle smoking alongside other interventions such as quit programmes, but will consider pursuing legislative options if children’s exposure to secondhand smoke does not start to fall within the next three years.
“There is a growing public consensus on the social unacceptability of being exposed to secondhand smoke and introducing legislation would be a powerful statement of intent about our commitment to the health of our children.”
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, welcomed the Welsh government’s commitment.
She said: “Raising awareness of the dangers of smoking around children is essential. Protecting children from the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke is a priority if we are to reduce the number of lives blighted by this deadly product.
“We urge all adults not to smoke around children and to make use of the NHS quit smoking programme or any other quit smoking aid that will help break an addiction that will kill half of all long-term smokers.”
Wales’ chief medical officer, Dr Tony Jewell, added: “There is robust evidence that the level of toxic chemicals is very high in cars, even with window ventilation.
“There are wider long-term public health benefits too, as evidence shows that children are also more likely to pick up the smoking habit and continue smoking in their adult years if their parents smoke in front of them.”