Parliament protects children from second-hand smoke in cars

 In Croydon, Speeches

I met the school council at Broadmead primary school in Croydon last Friday and I took part in a school assembly at Norbury Manor primary school this morning. I asked the children what they thought of the proposal to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children like them. Every single child supported the ban. When I asked how many of them had been inside a car when an adult was smoking, nearly half the children put their hands up. I asked one little girl what she did when she was in a car and an adult was smoking. She held her nose and told me that she tried not to breathe.

Although those children hated the experience of being forced to breathe in cigarette smoke, they did not understand the damage that it does to their health. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and other professionals estimate that up to 160,000 children a year develop lung diseases, including asthma and bronchitis, as a result of breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke. Developing lungs are far more susceptible to smoke-related disease than adults. That raises the question of why we protect adults in the workplace, on public transport and in pubs from the dangers of second-hand smoke, but subject children to it in cars.

I have listened carefully to the arguments against this proposal, but I find very little merit in them. The idea that this measure is an example of the illiberal nanny state is misguided. Law making is often about striking a balance between competing rights. On what balance of rights does the right of a smoker to smoke outweigh the right of a child to grow up healthy? I do not accept that an adult should have the right to harm a child who is powerless to protect him or herself. An adult who is in a car with a smoker can get out if they want to. Often, a child cannot.

To those who say that the measure is unenforceable, I say that we heard exactly the same about the seat belt law. Education in this case has clearly not worked well enough. We need to change behaviour. That requires a strong education campaign but, crucially, that needs to be backed up by law to show how seriously the country takes the issue and to create a sufficiently powerful deterrent.

We have taken many steps to protect people from passive smoking. Without this further measure, too many children will be left struggling to avoid breathing in smoke in the back of cars and, far worse, could find themselves struggling with lung disease in later life. It is our duty today to act to protect them.