In Depth

Car smoking ban comes into force: what you need to know

From today, drivers and passengers caught lighting up with children in the car face a £50 fine

New legislation banning people from smoking in cars carrying children comes into effect across England and Wales today.

Healthcare professionals have welcomed the landmark legislation, but some argue that the new law is "unnecessary and unenforceable". Here's everything you need to know:

What does the law say?

It is now an offence to smoke in any enclosed vehicle that is carrying anyone under the age of 18. Drivers and passengers caught lighting up will face a £50 fixed penalty fine, reduced to £30 if paid within two weeks. The law applies to all private vehicles, except convertibles with the roof down. Electronic cigarettes are exempt from the ban.

Why was it introduced?

The law is aimed at protecting children from the harmful and long-lasting effects of passive smoking. The British Lung Foundation estimates that more than 430,000 children are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars every week, according to the BBC. The chemicals present in second-hand smoke have been known to cause chest infections, asthma and cot death in children and health experts warn that the smoke can stay in the air for up to two and a half hours – even if a window is opened.

"Smoking just a single cigarette in a vehicle exposes children to high levels of air pollutants and cancer-causing chemicals and people often wrongly assume that opening a window, or letting in fresh air, will lessen the damage," said England's Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies. 

Will offenders be fined immediately?

Not necessarily. Though police will be able to enforce the law immediately, drivers are expected to be given a grace period. "Police forces will be taking an educational, advisory and non-confrontational approach when enforcing the new legislation," said a National Police Chiefs' Council spokesperson. "This would see people being given warnings rather than being issued with fines, which would give time for public awareness of the offences to build."

What is the response so far?

Healthcare professionals have welcomed the move, describing it as "landmark" legislation. Ian Gray, principal policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, expects that there will be "very high levels of compliance" from drivers, ITV News reports. "Hardly anyone can believe it is a good idea to smoke in your car when children are present."

But some have criticised the law for intruding into citizens' private space. The legislation is both "unnecessary and unenforceable," says Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest. He argues that the overwhelming majority of smokers are aware of the risks of smoking in front of children and they don't do it. "If drivers are spotted smoking will they be stopped in case there's a child in the back?" he asked. "The authorities, especially the police, must have better things to do."

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