NI MPs urged to back car smoking ban
A charity has written to all NI MPs asking them to back a ban on smoking in cars with children present.
The issue is due to be put to a vote in Westminster on Monday.
Any ban would only affect England as the issue is the responsibility of the devolved governments elsewhere in the UK.
However, Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke said they hoped any legislation would "galvanise" the NI assembly into action.
The charity's chief executive, Andrew Dougal, said: "The research damns those who cause such harm to the developing lungs of innocent children.
"Many of these children are unable to speak and those who can may be afraid to do so."
Northern Ireland's health minister Edwin Poots has announced plans for a consultation on the issue.
Mr Dougal added: "Nicotine is as addictive as heroin. We are very aware of the lengths to which such addicts will go to get a fix.
"In the same way, totally governed by addiction, parents will harm their own children.
"Although this legislation, if passed, will, in the first instance, not apply in Northern Ireland, it is the fervent hope off all medical and health organisations that it will galvanise our own assembly into prompt action.
"It is essential that Northern Ireland children are afforded the same protection as those in England."
More than 700 doctors and other health experts have put their names to a letter urging MPs to back a ban in England on smoking in cars with children present.
The signatories to the letter in the British Medical Journal say the move is needed "to protect the well-being of children now and in the future".
They include nurses, doctors and surgeons working across the NHS.
The ban being debated would apply to under-18s - as 18 is the legal age at which people can buy cigarettes.
The letter argues that second-hand smoke exposure is a "major cause of ill-health in children", particularly among the most disadvantaged groups.
It says smoking in cars exposes children to particularly "high amounts of tobacco smoke" and there is now a consensus that children should be protected from such unnecessary hazards.
The vote by MPs comes after the House of Lords last week backed a Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill.
The amendment empowers, but does not compel, the government to make it a criminal offence for drivers to fail to prevent smoking in their vehicles when children are present.
The government has now told its MPs they can have a free vote on the issue.
Labour has said that if the measure does not become law before the next election, it will be included in its manifesto.
Calls to prohibit smoking in private vehicles when children are present have been raised in Parliament on several occasions since the 2007 ban on smoking in public places came into effect.