Ban on smoking in cars brought in for England and Wales
Irish ban approved by Dáil last year - but awaiting regulations covering enforcement
Legislation to introduce a smoking ban in cars in the Republic was passed by the Dáil last December, but implementation is awaiting regulations governing fixed penalty notices and the size of possible fines. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
A ban on smoking in cars when children are present has come into effect in England and Wales.
The new law, which seeks to protect children from the effects of tobacco smoke, will see the driver and any smoker fined £50 (€68) if they have someone under 18 in the car.
Legislation to introduce a similar ban in the Republic was passed by the Dáil last December, but implementation is awaiting regulations governing fixed penalty notices and the size of possible fines.
A similar ban is currently working its way through the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the Miscellaneous Bill, but there are concerns that the uncertainty surrounding the Assembly itself could delay its passage. The Scottish Parliament is expected to debate a ban early next year.
According to health authorities, children are more susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke - 80 per cent of which is invisible - as they breathe more frequently than adults and their respiratory systems and immune systems are still developing.
Secondhand smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer. It puts children at risk of serious conditions including asthma, bronchitis and infections of the chest and ear, according to British health authorities.
Dr Anil Namdeo of Newcastle University carried out experiments on secondhand smoke in vehicles to test levels of dangerous chemicals present as fine particles 100 times thinner than a human hair, described as PM2.5.
He found driving with the windows open while smoking exposes those in the back of a car - often children - to dangerous levels of chemicals.
Even with windows open, levels were more than 100 times higher than recommended safety guidelines. With windows closed and the fans on, levels were more than 200 times the safe limits.
Levels of poisonous carbon monoxide were two to three times worse than on a busy road at rush hour.
In Ireland, the Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012 was passed by the Dáil in 2014.
Minister for Children James Reilly said at the time the law was about protecting children, and not about penalising smokers.
He commented that “one of the best Christmas presents we can give our children is to protect their health and wellbeing”.
On Thursday, Mr Reilly’s department said work was “ongoing on drafting the supporting regulations and on ensuring the appropriate Garda systems to implement the law”.
The department added: “Research has shown a low prevalence of smoking in cars where children are present and the passing of a law, even in advance of the regulations, sends a strong signal about the need to protect children’s health.”