Smoking is bad for your health. We all know this and our country appears to be divided into three groups: those who smoke and who say ‘damn the consequences’, those who smoke and who are trying to quit and those who are non-smokers and who can’t stand what they regard as a filthy habit.
It is also well known that smoking in a confined space can harm the health of non-smokers by polluting the atmosphere – a phenomenon known as ‘passive smoking’.
It therefore makes sense for smokers to try not to inflict the habit – and with it any damage to health – on others, particularly if those others are children.
It was with this knowledge that smoking can harm the health of non-smokers in certain circumstances that the House of Commons has just voted to allow the banning of smoking by adults in vehicles where children are present.
This move is breaking new ground by allowing a ban to be imposed on smoking in a private place.
Although the result of the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of this ban, many MP’s, myself included, had misgivings about going this far.
These reservations did not relate to the act of smoking itself –of course parents should not smoke in a small confined space in the presence of children. The vote was about more than that. The qualms that exist are about whether or not to make such behaviour a criminal offence.
Smoking in a car with young children present is wrong, but no evidence has been produced to show that this behaviour is a growing problem in the UK.
Indeed, there has already been action in this area, with a nation-wide campaign, led by Public Health England, to ensure parents fully understand the dangers of second-hand smoke. Parents have been encouraged to stop smoking in the home or car if there is a child present. The evaluation of this campaign has shown it increased awareness of the risks of second-hand smoke.
Indeed, this campaign and others has helped to change attitudes and behaviours.
The evidence therefore shows that we are dealing here with a diminishing and not a growing problem.
Against this background, surprisingly, an amendment was made to the Children and Families Bill which allows Ministers to bring forward proposals in future to ban smoking in cars when a child is present and the amendment has now been approved by both Houses of Parliament.
However, I have concerns with this heavy-handed, nanny-state proposal: the first is that we live in a free society and I do believe there comes a point at which the state should stop telling people what to do.
A good, educated parent would not smoke in a car with children present and campaigns explaining the dangers were already having the desired effect.
Secondly, I am not convinced that this is an area of human behaviour where we should involve the criminal law and create a new offence punishable before the courts.
I do not want to see police officers spending their time investigating how many smokers pass by in a car where there is a child present, rather than dealing with burglaries, robberies and muggings.
Further, the whole area could easily become a legal minefield. What would be the position of a parent smoking in a car with a child present, if the car itself was a convertible? And, would a new law apply to motor caravans, where the “vehicle” involved was also the family home?
Despite my concerns, Parliament has now given permission for the government to bring forward proposals to create a new offence, if it wishes to do so. The government would be wise to proceed here with the utmost caution.
l According to recent research, Morris dancers and train spotters can now defend their unfashionable hobbies as a ‘genetic inevitability’.
A study by an internet based group concludes that more than a quarter of us have inherited our ancestor’s pastimes and professions in the same way we have inherited our surname and facial features from them.
They claim that hobbies such as fishing and sailing can, like genetic similarities, be handed down from grandparent, to parent to child, through what they rather unoriginally call ‘the hobby gene’.
Their study claims that some people are able to trace their hobbies back in their family for nearly 200 years. I am not sure that I agree with all this tosh. My hobby is driving a classic car and 200 years ago there was no such thing.
Further, it was only after I bought my first classic car that my father also became interested and bought his, so in my family at least, the gene appears to be going backwards!