Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The House of Lords have backed a Labour amendment to ban smoking in cars carrying children. The House of Commons will soon have to consider these amendments to the Children and Families Bill. Shadow Minister for Public Health Luciana Berger (Labour, Liverpool Wavertree) said:
We know that children are particularly vulnerable to passive smoking. We know that a single cigarette can create concentrations of tobacco smoke in a car that is 23 times more toxic than in a typical house.
Despite Ms Berger’s claim that “we know” this about smoke concentrations, the “23 times” figure is a phantom number. The claim originates in a January 1998 issue of Rocky Mountain News, from a quote by a local senator, citing a 1997 press release by tobacco control advocates, which in turn misinterpreted a 1992 study in N-nitrosamines in indoor air. This phenomenon of Chinese citations has led to British Shadow Ministers proudly proclaiming something which is untrue. A 2006 study into second-hand smoke in cars found that mean observed levels respirable suspended particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter were 272 micrograms per cubic metre for cars with closed windows, and 51 micrograms per cubic metre when the windows were fully open. This study rebuts the British Lung Foundation’s claim that “opening a window makes little difference”.
The offence created by the Lords amendment says:
(1) It is the duty of any person who drives a private vehicle to ensure that the vehicle is smoke-free whenever a child or children under the age of 18 are in such vehicle or part of such vehicle.
(2) A person who fails to comply with the duty in subsection (1) commits an offence.
The offence will attract a fine of £60 or the attendance of an “awareness course”. The driver suffers the vicarious punishment for any other adults who choose to smoke in their car with children present, even if the driver requests otherwise. It should be the parental responsibility – and adult courtesy – to ensure children do not passively smoke. The state cannot, and should not, attempt to supplant the role of the parent.
Christopher Snowdon has noticed that the Lords amendments enable the Secretary of State for Health to “impose prohibitions, requirements or limitations” on “retail packaging of tobacco products”, including its appearance, size and shape. If this amendment remains in the final Bill, then the Health Secretary would be empowered to initiate the ‘plain packaging’ policy without a parliamentary debate. This is why Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, announced:
This is a great win for tobacco control and public health. We congratulate parliamentarians from all Parties and the crossbenches in the House of Lords and all those supporters, who worked so hard to make standardised tobacco packaging a reality.
The ban on failing to prevent smoking in cars carrying children is unenforceable, based upon a driver being liable for their passengers’ actions. Other amendments grant terrible power to the Health Secretary. These amendments should be stopped.