It’s hard to imagine that just ten years ago people smoked in pubs, restaurants, shopping malls, buses and anywhere else that took smokers’ fancy. The idea that smokers might not be allowed to light-up in order to protect other people from the effects of second-hand smoke was regarded as a nanny-state infringement of personal liberties. Nevertheless the then Welsh Assembly Government secured the necessary primary and secondary legislation and the 2007 ban on smoking in public places came into force.
At the time there was widespread concern that people would be neither aware of the ban nor willing to comply with it, and tens of thousands were spent on all kinds of advertising and awareness-raising, contacting employers, printing standard signs and additional enforcement staff. This big splash was arguably highly effective, as there were – and are – remarkably few infringements.
While the ban has undoubtedly protected the general public and workers in previously smoke-filled environments from smoke’s toxic effects, it has not protected some of the most vulnerable – children – from the effects of their parents’ or carers’ smoke.
Hence the BMA’s call for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children – a confined space where smoke (and its effects) are concentrated. Cue the chorus of ‘nanny-state’ and ‘infringements of personal liberties’ a la early 2000s. The child’s ‘personal liberties’ to breathe clean air are of course forgotten.
It is a big step for a government to ban smoking in an indivdual’s private space, just as it was when the government banned smoking in privately-owned clubs and workplaces. We accept restrictions on individual behaviours that harm other people no matter where they occur – violence, for example, is not acceptable just because it occurs in the home, and possession of certain substances is illegal in private as well as public places.
The case for protecting children from the second-hand smoke is overwhelming. Smoking is highly injurious to health, and while an adult can ‘choose’ to smoke him-or herself and to avoid second-hand smoke, a child cannot. The case to be made is not so much about health but about the respective interests of children and adults. With so much emphasis on child protection in other walks of life, banning smoking in cars is a simple step that would protect thousands of children from the harmful effects of their parents’ cigarettes.
No more should children arrive at school with their clothes reeking of a 20-a-day habit, coughing because their asthma has been exacerbated by a 10-minute trip in the car.