After five minutes, a single cigarette burning in a car generates a higher concentration of smoke than can be found many bar rooms, and that’s no environment for a child, British lawmakers say. The government of Wales announced this week that its would become the first in the United Kingdom to enact a ban on smoking in cars with children. Last year, Parliament voted to allow regional governments to enforce such bans. England is expected to follow with a law in 2015, according to the BBC.
Scientists have linked secondhand smoke to a number of childhood illnesses, including asthma, respiratory infection, ear infections, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Second-hand smoke also increases a child’s risk of developing cancer as an adult. Laws that prohibit smoking in public places are common in the United States; the American Non-Smokers’ Rights Foundation estimated that, as of July 3, 65 percent of Americans lived in areas where smoking is outlawed in restaurants and bars. Now child welfare advocates want to push the boundaries of the non-smoking zone even further, into private spaces such as automobiles.
Seven states have already enacted laws that prohibit adults from smoking in cars with minors of various ages. Oregon’s law went into effect this year after receiving bipartisan support in the state legislature. While a few lawmakers complained that Oregon was turning into a “nanny state” by policing the choices residents make in private, other lawmakers said the law was a public health no-brainer.
“This is a bill whose time has come,” Republican Rep. Jim Thompson told The Oregonian. “We clearly know the effects of second-hand smoke on health.”
In the U.K., banning smoking in cars with children had overwhelming support, with just over three quarters of Parliament voting to authorize the regional laws. Could the movement to ban on smoking in cars with children go nationwide in the United States?
A handful of states have passed anti-anti-smoking laws. Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Florida have state laws that prohibit municipalities from passing non-smoking regulations for restaurants and bars. Opponents of private smoking bans argue they would be difficult to enforce and arbitrarily applied.
Another potential argument against banning smoking around children is the fact that the problem seems to be getting better on its own. A national study found that second-hand smoke exposure in cars among non-smoking teens decreased from 39 percent to 22.8 percent between 2000 and 2009. Another survey said 81 percent of homes and 74 percent of vehicles in the United States are smoke-free.
But that’s not good enough, say anti-smoking advocates. Both in America and the U.K., one in five children report having recently been in cars where adults were smoking. A ban like the one in Wales would do more than decrease smoking in cars with kids, wrote British researcher Graham Moore.
“It marks an important symbolic step, bolstering the already popular view that smoking in front of children is not acceptable,” Moore wrote. “And if legislation improves children’s health, it will be a battle worth fighting.”