Northern Ireland

NI could ban smoking in cars where children are present

Driver smoking Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Smoking could soon be banned if under-18s are in the car

Smoking in cars where children are passengers could soon be banned in Northern Ireland.

The health minister has announced an amendment to a bill currently going through the assembly.

This would make it illegal to smoke when children are present in a vehicle.

A similar ban came into force in England and Wales in October and Scotland plans to legislate next year.

The Republic of Ireland has already approved a ban, but it has not been implemented yet.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he had taken note of the bans in other UK regions and he believes Northern Ireland should follow suit.

"I have listened carefully to the arguments made by many that Northern Ireland should follow the example of other parts of the United Kingdom, and I confirm to the house today that it is my intention to bring forward an amendment at consideration stage (of the legislation) to ban smoking in cars with children," he said.

The idea is to protect children from the harmful effects of second hand smoke which can increase the risk of asthma, meningitis and cot death.

According to the Department of Health, children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults.

Campaigners say the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are in favour of introducing the measure.

In 2014, an opinion poll commissioned by NI Chest, Heart and Stroke showed 82% of those polled said the assembly should ban smoking in cars carrying children.

But some fear this is the state going too far, invading people's privacy and curtailing people's freedom.

The department said protecting the health of children in Northern Ireland must be a priority.

In England and Wales, drivers and passengers face a fine of £50 for breaking the law introduced two months ago.

However, police are operating a light touch approach when it comes to enforcement - issuing mainly fines as public awareness increases.

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