Smoking ban in cars: When sharing isn’t caring

Move to be welcomed given the insidious threat to children in such a confined environment

 

It’s the message, not the fine, that’s important. Everybody knows that smoking damages your health. And a majority of smokers would like to give the it up. For many of those addicted to nicotine, however, there is a little internal voice that says: “cancer will not happen to me”. From there, it is a small step to believing that smoking in cars does not affect their children. Of course they are wrong. And they should be told so in unambiguous terms. That is what this legislation does.

Critics of the proposal to impose a fine of €100 on drivers who smoke, or permit others to smoke, while children are present, accuse the Government of excessive interference in private affairs and of presiding over a “nanny state”. Opposition to a ban on smoking in the workplace was couched in similar terms. Since that legislation was enacted, however, there has been a decrease in male lung cancer deaths. A combination of health warnings, fewer users and protection against passive smoking have had a measurable effect.

Few parents would consciously put their children’s health at risk. But passive smoking in cars was, traditionally, not seen as a threat. Because of that historic background, these regulations amount to an educational exercise designed to change public perception and habits, rather than bring offenders to court. A similar approach is being taken in the United Kingdom. The Garda Síochána will apply the new regulations from next month and, if a precedence established in relation to seat-belt enforcement is followed, their initial activity is likely to involve friendly advice and public warnings. If adults continue to place children at risk, however, penalties will follow.

The incidence of asthma and bronchitis among young people has been rising rapidly. Second-hand smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer. And, as oncologist Professor John Crown points out, there are more toxic emissions from a single cigarette in a car than comes out of its exhaust. Who would deliberately add to the health risks facing children?

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