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Protecting young people from the harm of smoking

February 14, 2014 2:47 PM

This article by Nick Harvey MP appeared in this week's North Devon Journal - http://www.northdevonjournal.co.uk/North-Devon-MP-Nick-Harvey-Law-seeks-protect/story-20642875-detail/story.html#ixzz2tmOEwQld

Earlier this week Parliament voted for a proposal to make smoking in cars where under-18s are present an offence, in order to prevent harm to children from breathing in the toxic fumes.

The ban was passed under a free vote - where MPs aren't "whipped" by their party to vote one way or the other - allowing us to vote with our consciences.

There were a number of perfectly valid liberal arguments on both sides of the debate, but to me this is a clear case where there are good and legitimate reasons to protect children from what is simply obvious harm. No one could argue that smoking is good in and of itself - even smoking one cigarette is obviously harmful. Adults can make their own choices about whether to smoke and where to smoke, but children cannot.

The Department of Health recently published survey results showing that 300,000 children every year visit their doctor because of illness linked to second-hand smoking.

The toxic effects of smoking in a car are 11 times worse than in an open space. Moreover, in a car there is no way that a child can escape the smoke, even if they understand the dangers posed by smoke.

So while instinctively people may be concerned that this is the state telling us how to live our lives and raise our children, my view would be that this is a very small move necessary for the greater good.

The benefits to the 165,000 children who experience smoke-related health problems each year far outweigh the very modest restriction to individual liberty proposed here.

Bringing in such a law would send a clear message out that smoking in cars with children present is unacceptable. Like the laws that say we must wear seatbelts and fit child seats, we will judge their success not on the number of convictions it results in, but on the change in culture we hope it will create - in this case around exposure to second-hand smoke.

At the same time this week, MPs also voted for an amendment that paves the way to standardised - otherwise known as plain - packaging for cigarettes. The amendment in question, which was pushed for by Lib Dems in the House of Lords, gives the Secretary of State for Health the powers to bring in standardised packaging, pending the results of an independent review into the evidence for it.

We will wait to see the outcome of this study, but in the meantime it is great to see the Government taking such steps in the name of protecting young people and reducing the harm of smoking.