London - Drivers who fail to stop passengers smoking in front of a child face being hit with £10 000 (R182 800) fines.
A new law will make it illegal to smoke in a car in England if it is carrying children.
But the driver or owner of the car will face a much higher penalty than the maximum £800 fine for the passenger who lights up.
Health campaigners say the move will save lives by preventing children and other passengers being exposed to toxic fumes.
Opponents said it was excessive, unnecessary and a sign of the Government “flexing its muscles.”
The idea was backed by a majority of MPs in February, forcing ministers to draw up detailed legislation. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Tory veteran Ken Clarke were among those who warned it was illiberal and unworkable.
Mr Clarke said: “I don’t think our traffic police are going to be concentrating enormous efforts on racing up and down the motorway peering into cars, trying to see whether there’s a child. We’ll probably find two or three people fined a year.” A consultation paper slipped out during the Cabinet reshuffle gave details of the proposed regulations for England – a similar proposal to cover Wales is expected shortly.
Buried in the small print was the penalty drivers face if someone is caught smoking in a car carrying under-18s. Enforcement officers would be able to issue a £50 fixed penalty notice both for smoking in the vehicle and failure to prevent smoking in the vehicle.
If the case goes to court, the maximum fine will soar to £800 (R14 600) for someone caught smoking in a car carrying a child and £10 000 (R182 800) for a driver who fails to prevent someone else smoking.
It raises the prospect of a driver – or even just the owner – of a car being fined if another adult starts smoking unless they can show they took ‘reasonable steps’ to stop the person lighting up. Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “The only effective way to protect children from second-hand smoke is to prevent them breathing it in the first place.”
Campaign group Ash – Action on Smoking and Health – urged ministers to bring in the law change before May’s General Election.
Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Cars are small tin boxes where concentrations of tobacco smoke can reach dangerous levels very quickly.
“The time has come for it to be illegal to make children breathe in these toxic fumes.”
But Simon Clark, director of smokers’ group Forest, said: “A ban is excessive and unnecessary.
“Smoking in cars with children has been in decline for years. Today very few people do it because the overwhelming majority of smokers accept that it’s inconsiderate.”
PERILS OF THIRD-HAND SMOKE!
‘Third-hand’ tobacco smoke which lingers in clothes and furniture can still pose a threat to health, according to scientists.
Deadly tobacco particles left behind after smoking can be dangerous even to people who were never in the presence of the burning cigarette.
The molecules, which are particularly dangerous to children. linger in clothes, curtains and furniture, impregnate house dust and gather on the floor and walls. Remarkably, York University scientists found, even non-smokers’ homes where nobody had ever smoked exceeded safe levels.
According to the study in the journal Environment International, the molecules can be absorbed through the mouth or skin. Study leader Dr Jacqueline Hamilton said: “Risks of tobacco exposure do not end when a cigarette is extinguished.”