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“MPs must ban smoking in cars with children”

Over 500 respiratory healthcare professionals are today urging MPs to legislate against smoking in cars with children in a letter to the BMJ. A recent vote in the House of Lords was supportive. Here is the letter:

Dear Sir,

Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke is a major cause of ill health in children. Smoke inhalation damages the developing lung, and the Royal College of Physicians estimates that each year in the UK it is responsible for 300,000 primary care contacts, 9,500 hospital admissions, at least 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and 40 sudden infant deaths.

Most of this additional burden of disease falls on the more disadvantaged children in society, and all of it is avoidable. There is a strong consensus that children need to be protected from unnecessary hazards, that exposing children to tobacco smoke is unacceptable, and that removing this exposure is effective.

Children in cars where a person is smoking are forced to inhale high amounts of tobacco smoke. As health professionals working to improve respiratory health, we welcome the amendment to the Children and Families Bill 2013 that allows the government to introduce legislation to ban smoking in cars where children are present.

Objections that this legislation impinges on freedom assume that there is a right to force children to breathe tobacco smoke and the objectors seem to value this more highly than the children’s right to breathe clean air. There are precedents for legislation to determine behaviour while driving, most obviously laws requiring the wearing of seatbelts and the use of child car seats, as well as the ban on mobile phone use while driving.

Smoking in cars where children are present has been banned in other countries.

We urge MPs to support this important public health measure, which will protect the wellbeing of children now and in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Nicholas S Hopkinson, Azeem Majeed professor of primary care, John Britton professor of epidemiology, Andy Bush professor of paediatric respiratory medicine, Jon Ayres professor of environmental and respiratory medicine, Martin McKee professor of European public health, Trisha Greenhalgh professor of primary health care; on behalf of 584 others.

Additional commentary on House of Lords vote:

Professor Mitch Blair, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Over 300,000 children in the UK a year go to their GP with illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia as a result of being exposed to cigarette smoke and 17,000 babies a year receive hospital treatment because of passive smoking.  The smoke in a car can be up to 11 times more concentrated than in a smoky bar.

“That’s why today’s vote marks a significant step in reducing the burden of passive smoking on children – and is hugely welcome by all those who have long been campaigning for this legislation.

“In a recent survey, 80% of the public said they would support a ban on smoking in cars when children are present, and 86% of children agreed with the proposal. Education alone is simply note enough. We know from the example of seatbelts in cars, that it is the combination of legislation plus education that works most effectively.”

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