Aaron Widmar
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Ban on Smoking in Cars: Health Concern or Liberties Violation?

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UKs Ban on Smoking in Cars cigarette Steering wheel

If you have kids in the back seat, smoking in your car may no longer be an option
Photo: Camilla Soares via CC

Tobacco smokers can’t catch a break these days. After a nationwide movement to ban smoking in public places, a hike in cigarette sin tax, and general condemnation of smoking from employers and health organizations, it seems smokers are hard-pressed to find a place they’re free to enjoy a relaxing drag.

Now, one more place may soon be scratched off that list, as certain governments are enacting a ban on smoking in cars, specifically when children below 18 years of age are present.

A Ban on Smoking in Cars with Children Wouldn’t Be Unlikely in the United States

In a couple weeks, England will pass a law that bans smoking in vehicles where children under 18 are present. This will cover all adults transporting children–not just parents or the children’s legal guardians–and adult passengers too. The ban on smoking in cars, in the works since a vote in February, will be enforced beginning in October 2015. Even adults who aren’t smoking but don’t attempt to stop someone else in the car who is will be fined.

Laws like the UK ban are due largely to efforts by groups like Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which has “a long history of taking action against tobacco use and its devastating health and economic impact.” Advocates claim to protect children from the health dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke, including asthma attacks, unexpected infant death, and respiratory infections.

If a ban on smoking in cars seems unlikely to happen here in the United States, these laws are already being made. Residents in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, and Oregon can’t smoke in cars where children are present, thanks to state laws already enacted.

Uks ban on smoking in cars kids children in back seat

Smokers might have to choose between their children’s health and their personal desires
Photo: Derek K. Miller via CC

A Ban on Smoking in Cars with Children: For or Against?

Like any argument, there’s essentially two sides: for or against.

One one hand, there’s chief executive of ASH, Deborah Arnott, who 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.” It’s the government’s responsibility to protect children who cannot protect themselves from secondhand smoke the way adults can, especially when tobacco smoke in cars is 11 times more potent.

Alternately, 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.” Laws against smoking in cars intrude on the private realm and on civil freedom. Will this micro-managing continue into banning smoking in homes with children? Or worse, could a financial penalty be replaced with child services intervening?

Another criticism is that this ban on smoking in cars isn’t enforceable, but regulation in cars isn’t new. Law enforcement already monitors the use of alcoholic drinks, seat belts, and cell phones, so tobacco use isn’t an unlikely step.

What are your thoughts on a ban on smoking in cars with children present? Is it a necessary health precaution the government should take, or is it controlling personal freedom?