The Welsh Government should pass a law that would ban drivers from smoking Style in their cars, the British Medical Association has said. A motion passed yesterday at the annual conference of the doctors’ union in St David’s Hall, Cardiff, called for legislation to be introduced by all governments in the UK to tackle the issue of smoking while driving, to protect the health of other passengers and to increase the safety of other road users.
The motion, put forward by members of the Public Health Conference, is aimed at protecting vulnerable passengers such as children, who are unable to protect themselves from the damaging effects of secondhand smoke.
Dr Mark Temple, chairman of the BMA’s Welsh Committee for Public Health Medicine and Community Health, said he hoped the Welsh Government would lead the way on the issue.
“There is good evidence that the public think this should be done. If you believe that it is the duty of the public to protect children then you must support this motion. Smoking is bad wherever it may be involuntarily imposed on people.
“It’s quite obvious that people who smoke in cars do not just put themselves at risk, they also put other road users at risk. People are distracted by trying to light their cigarettes and if they then drop it there’s a sudden distraction because they are getting burnt. Fires and cars do not mix very well.
“Banning smoking for drivers is also likely to reduce the number of deaths on the road and would probably save the NHS in Wales a substantial amount of money.
“Tobacco is an addictive product. We do not allow drug addicts to drive under the influence, but we are happy to allow drivers to drive under the influence of tobacco.
“It would be wonderful if Wales could show the way for other countries in this.”
During the debate, Dr Douglas Noble told the conference that smoking in a car is more damaging to a person’s health than breathing in exhaust fumes.
He said: “In cars, particle concentrations are 27 times higher than in a smoker’s home and 20 times higher than in a pub, in the days when you could smoke in public places.
“It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car than smoke cigarettes in terms of fine particular matter released.
“A ban would protect pregnant women and children.”
But some medics told the conference that the law would be difficult to enforce and would be a step too far towards totalitarianism.
Dr Mark Sanford-Wood from the South West regional council, said: “This motion seeks to criminalise ordinary, decent, law-abiding folk who simply choose to smoke. Reducing people’s tobacco consumption is an enlightened goal that is not helped by taking a giant stride in the direction of totalitarianism.”
But Dr Temple said there were other examples of legislation that had been passed to improve the safety of drivers, which had overcome these problems.
He said: “The same argument was brought in about seat belts. The evidence is there that overnight there was an increase in the uptake of seatbelts.
“If you really wanted to prove that somebody was smoking while they were driving, you could do tests to check levels of nicotine, then do another test after an interval, but I do not envisage that would be required.”
A spokesperson from the Welsh Government said: “We welcome the debate on whether we should ban people from smoking in cars carrying children. Children are not able to protect themselves.
“Reducing children’s exposure to second-hand smoke will help to protect the most vulnerable in society and promoting smoke-free cars carrying children will bring home toŠ parents and othersŠ the riskŠ their smokingŠ poses to the health ofŠ children.
“We recognise that the time is right to champion new approaches to further protect children from the harms of second-hand smoke.
“We are currently looking at the responses before considering the next step.”