Skip to main content


Volume 730: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce legislation to stop adults smoking in cars when children are present.

My Lords, exposure to second-hand smoke is hazardous, especially to children’s health. Since smoke-free legislation was introduced in England in 2007, evidence shows that the number of children being exposed to second-hand smoke has continued to fall. However, some children are still exposed in the home and in family cars. We want to encourage people to create family environments free from second-hand smoke. The Government are proposing a range of voluntary measures that we believe can achieve more, more quickly, than legislation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered response. The evidence of damage to children from passive smoking is well documented. Thirty jurisdictions in Canada, Australia and the United States have banned smoking in cars when children are present. In Canada, exposure to smoking in cars fell by one-third to one-half in some provinces over a six-year period. Is my noble friend aware that the concentration of smoke in the back of a car is considerably greater than that in the front, even if the driver’s window is open? Is he prepared to follow the example of the Welsh Assembly and introduce legislation if efforts to change behaviour fail?

My noble friend speaks with great authority on this subject, and I find little to disagree with in anything that he has said. He is absolutely right that children are particularly vulnerable to the harms of second-hand smoke: more than 300,000 children in the UK present passive smoking-related illnesses to their GP every year. We have to take this matter seriously, and we are. However, despite the evidence my noble friend cites from Canada, it is still early days to judge how effective that legislation has been, over and above voluntary measures. The second issue that poses problems is enforcement. However, we continue to look at these questions very closely.

My Lords, as a former heavy smoker, I still have a guilty conscience over what I must have done to my own children. I fully support every effort to attack passive smoking. But did the Minister see in a report in today’s press that a council somewhere in England has refused to allow an adoption because the male of the family had once smoked a cigar at a wedding and had once smoked a cigar at a party? Is this not taking things to a totally ridiculous level?

My Lords, I did not see that report, but what the noble Lord says disturbs me. I think we all want to see an increase in adoption rates and we do not want to see potentially good adopters turned aside for what may appear to be trivial reasons.

My Lords, I moved Private Member’s legislation in the other place in the early 1980s and got nowhere on it. Only when legislation was moved was there a real reduction—a complete ban—on smoking in public places and only through legislation can effective action be achieved. Is it not also the case that smokers lighting up cigarettes in cars are dangerous in terms of road safety? That is an extra reason for doing it. Will the Minister therefore stop pussy-footing around and saying that this can be achieved voluntarily, when we all know that it can only really, successfully and effectively, be achieved through legislation?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s analysis. It is true that, on current evidence, the legislation is having a beneficial effect; I would not dissent from that. However, we know that voluntary behaviour change is eminently possible. It would explain why, between 1996 and 2007 when the legislation came in, secondhand smoking exposure in children in England declined by 70 per cent. That was driven by not only the evidence but also awareness campaigns and increased awareness in the lead-up to the legislation. Therefore, voluntary action can have a beneficial and marked effect.

My Lords, since the Minister mentioned enforcement, I wonder whether he would like to comment on the issue more generally. I take the point of my noble friend Lord Foulkes about road safety issues that arise from smoking in cars, as well as health issues. Is the Minister content that enough is being done to enforce restrictions that are already in place, for example on the use of mobile phones in cars? Is it not the case that the burden of enforcement always will fall mostly on the police, and that they are unlikely to be able to carry out those duties very effectively when they are under such pressure to cut their numbers?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Currently, enforcement in the hands of the police centres mainly on dangerous driving. That may take the form of people illegally using mobile phones while driving or perhaps smoking in a dangerous way. However, I take her point that there is a limit on the extent to which the police can be expected to extend their remit. There is also a sensitivity in this area. The idea of police stopping a car in which somebody in the front seat is smoking on suspicion that there might be a child inside may stray over the boundary of what society would consider an acceptable use of police time.

My Lords, I know that the Minister is very concerned about the effects on children. Could he remind me of the timetable to remove displays from tobacconists’ stores so that children do not see them and are not encouraged to smoke, because that legislation can already be put in place and carried through?

The noble Baroness is right. We believe that the Government’s commitment around the introduction of tobacco display legislation strikes the right balance. We have amended the implementation dates. Displays will come to an end in large shops on 6 April next year, and in small shops on 6 April 2015.

My Lords, my Government and this Government should be proud that today there are more than 2.5 million fewer smokers in England than there were in 1998. The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, points to the challenge of how to make certain behaviours unacceptable. Does the Minister believe that the Government’s nudge policy will work here? Will the Government invest in a public information campaign aimed at substantially and permanently changing public behaviour in this respect?

My Lords, we are going to publish a tobacco marketing plan later this year which will lay out precisely what we propose to do at a local level. It is our intention to support local efforts to raise awareness and use the insights that we know about from behavioural science to influence positive changes in behaviour, including around the social norms of not smoking when children are present. Voluntary local initiatives are already working. There is a very good example of that in Lincolnshire at the moment. We want to roll out more programmes like that.

My Lords, legislation already exists to ban smoking in commercial vehicles and in company cars because of the road safety aspects and also, presumably, because of health. Would it not be easy to ban smoking in all vehicles?

My Lords, as I indicated earlier, we certainly have not ruled out the possibility of legislation, but we need to be sure about the evidence that legislation will have a greater beneficial effect than voluntary action on its own. It is a case of balancing the pros and cons. We have touched upon the enforcement issue and I do not think that that will go away, but on the other hand, the benefits of legislation in other jurisdictions may turn out to be compelling.