Writing for ConservativeHome on Friday, Bob Blackman MP argued that laws to protect children from smoke in private vehicles reflect true Conservative values. Not in my book, and I write as someone who has voted Conservative all my adult life. Yes, Conservative values include a strong element of paternalism; and, yes, we need laws to protect children from serious harm or abuse, but a ban on smoking in cars carrying children is not one of them.
I would neither encourage nor condone smoking in a small confined space if children are present, but prohibition is out of all proportion to what actually happens in the real world. Today very few adults smoke if a child is in the car. According to the results of a survey conducted in July 2011 using an online panel of 1000 adult smokers, 45 per cent never smoke in their cars, 76 per cent would never smoke if children were present (a further 11 per cent would ask first), and only 13.6 per cent would smoke as normal if children were present.
A more recent study by the UCD School of Public Health, published in the Irish Medical Journal, found an even lower prevalence of smoking in cars carrying children. Researchers observed 2,230 drivers in Dublin (a city not unlike many in the UK). Eight adult passengers and just one child were seen to be exposed to a smoking adult driver. The overall prevalence of smoking was just 1.39 per cent.
In contrast Bob Blackman cites a 2011 British Lung Foundation survey that claimed that 51 per cent of children aged 8 to 15 reported they had at some point been exposed to cigarette smoke in a car. How seriously should we take that figure? Announcing its new tobacco control strategy in March, the Scottish Government included a note about NHS Fife’s anti-smoking initiative. It included the following statement: ‘The I-Don’t project surveyed 1500 students and showed that while students thought 75 per cent of their peers smoked, in reality the number who smoked was less than 30 per cent.’