Critics of car smoking ban cry ‘nanny state’

The consultation on banning smoking in cars with children will run until March 3, 2017. (Photo: Richard Clark)

The consultation on banning smoking in cars with children will run until March 3, 2017. (Photo: Richard Clark)

Proposals to ban smoking in cars carrying children is the latest example of “the nanny state going too far”, a DUP MP has claimed.

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill today announced an eight-week consultation on regulations to restrict smoking in private vehicles when people under the age of 18 are present.

The Sinn Fein MLA said it was “inconceivable” that the government should continue to allow young people to be exposed to second-hand smoke in the confines of a car.

“As a society we must take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our children which is why we must tackle this issue and why I am keen to introduce legislation to help prevent this,” she added.

But the move has divided opinion among her fellow MLAs, with some branding the plans “draconian” and “intrusive”.

East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson felt a ban was “not the right approach”.

He told the News Letter: “It comes down to how much can we oversee people’s behaviour. If there is a case for banning smoking in cars with children, what about stopping people smoking in their own homes. What is the difference and at what stage does the state stop interfering?”

Mr Wilson also expressed concerns that such measures would be “unenforceable” and “easily flouted”.

He added: “At the end of the day, people need to take responsibility for their own lives and the impact their actions have on others.

“If the government is concerned about this issue then the way to deal with it is by ensuring people have all the information they need to make an informed choice. It is about educating people.

“In a free society it should be up to people to choose for themselves. This is just another example of the nanny state going too far.

“ It is easy for politicians to respond to clamour of pressure groups. But you have to ask, is this response proportionate or even the most effective way of addressing this issue? I don’t believe it is.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer echoed Mr WIlson’s remarks and felt the responsibility should lie with drivers.

The Lagan Valley representative said: “The bottom line is that this is not enforceable. How many people using mobile phones behind the wheel are actually caught?

“I am totally against people smoking in cars with children present but a ban is just not practical.

“This is about parental judgement, which we cannot legislate for. A good educational programme showing the risks of second hand smoke would be much more effective.”

However, SDLP MLA Daniel Crossan indicated his party would be in “100 per cent in favour” of the proposed smoking ban.

He added: “If we can prevent smokers from damaging other people’s health then it can only be a good thing.

“Of course enforcement could be difficult and some people will inevitably slip through the net, but a ban will make people sit up and take notice.”

The consultation is now open and will run until March 3. The document is available on the Department of Health website https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/consultations