A law banning smoking in vehicles carrying children has come into force in England and Wales.
Drivers and passengers who break the law could face a penalty fine of £50 – but police say they will take a non-confrontational approach initially.
Whenever an under-18 is in the car, smokers will still be liable even if the windows are down or sunroof open.
But the law will not apply to people who are driving in a convertible which has the roof down.
Nor does it apply to e-cigarettes.
The Scottish Parliament is expected to consider bringing in its own law banning smoking in cars carrying children next year.
Meanwhile, officials in Northern Ireland said they would look at how the ban is working elsewhere before deciding whether or not to follow suit.
More than 430,000 children are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars each week, according to the British Lung Foundation.
- Smoke can stay in the air for up to two and a half hours even with a window open
- Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer
- Exposure to second-hand smoke has been strongly linked to chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death in children
- Bans on smoking in cars when children are present already exist in some US states, including California, as well as in parts of Canada and Australia
- Research indicates 300,000 children in the UK visit a GP each year because of the effects of second-hand smoke, with 9,500 going to hospital
- Smoking in a car creates a higher concentration of toxins than in a bar – some research has put it at 11 times higher
Exposing children to passive smoking can increase the risk of asthma, meningitis and cot death.
Health campaigners have hailed the move as a “tremendous victory” and the most significant milestone since the ban on smoking in public places was introduced in 2007.
But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said the new law was unnecessary and almost certainly unenforceable.
“If drivers are spotted smoking will they be stopped in case there’s a child in the back? The authorities, especially the police, must have better things to do.”
Analysis: Will the new law work?
The acknowledgement by the police that there will be a light-touch approach to the smoking ban in cars has raised some eyebrows.
But this was always likely to be the case. In fact, the same approach was taken when the smoking ban in enclosed public places – bars, restaurants and clubs – was introduced in 2007.
It was not made a priority by police or council officials, but the fact it was the law changed attitudes and behaviour.
And that is the point. Like other laws, the aim of this one is public protection – from second-hand smoke. But there is also a wider ambition too: to make smoking socially unacceptable.
Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation, said it would be “extremely challenging” to enforce the ban.
He said: “The reality of the situation is we are struggling to attend burglaries.
“Should we be focusing on people smoking in cars with children in the cars or should we be focusing on burglaries?”
Mick Creedon, chief constable of Derbyshire Police, told 5 live Breakfast, that in his area traffic police would be concentrating on issues to do with death and injury on the roads.
“Mobiles, drink driving, speeding, no seatbelts – we know these contribute to fatalities on the road,” he said.
“Smoking in a car doesn’t bring the same danger on the roads. It’s a public health issue.”
- 1965: Government bans cigarette advertising on television
- 1971: Ministers announce health warnings to be carried on all cigarette packets
- 1984: Smoking banned on London Tube trains
- 2002: Legislation passed banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
- 2005: Smoking banned on all trains
- 2006: A ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, comes into effect in Scotland
- 2007: England, Wales and Northern Ireland introduce their own bans on smoking in public places
- 2008: Picture health warnings introduced on cigarette packets
- 2012: Large shops are banned from displaying cigarettes. Smaller shops to follow suit in 2015
- 2015: Ban on smoking in cars where children are present