Belfast Telegraph

Ban on smoking in cars with children moves a step closer

As vending machines disappear, Poots eyes his next tobacco target

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland could become the first part of the UK to ban people from smoking in cars in which children are travelling.

The Health Minister has declared war on tobacco, which kills more than 2,300 people in Northern Ireland every year.

Days before legislation stopping the sale of tobacco products from vending machines comes into force, Edwin Poots announced that a public consultation into stopping people smoking in cars with children will take place later this year.

The ban has been proposed in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s tobacco strategy for the next 10 years, published on Tuesday.

If the public consultation endorses the proposal, legislation could be in place within two years.

Mr Poots is determined to drive down the number of smoking-related deaths in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy, he said: “Smoking remains the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland and is the leading cause of health inequalities in our society.”

He said he is committed to doing everything he can to achieve a smoke-free society.

While the strategy aims to reduce the overall number of people in Northern Ireland who smoke, it has targeted groups such as children and young people, pregnant women and those living in disadvantaged areas.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Smoking is a life-limiting, addictive habit that claims the lives of 2,300 people every year. These are 2,300 deaths too many.

“There are a range of proposals in the strategy, including banning smoking in cars that are carrying children which will go some way in protecting young people from the harmful effects of tobacco.

“There has been a great deal of public support with regards to tobacco legislation to date and the consultation on banning smoking in cars with children will gauge whether there is public support for this.

“The consultation will also provide a forum for a debate on this and to further raise awareness of the dangers of smoking.

“There will be accusations of a ‘nanny state’, but I think it is time we get real on this. I don’t think there is any parent who doesn’t have the best interests of their children at heart and it is about making choices that will protect them from harm. Many people started smoking in their teens, before they were in a position to make an informed decision, and it is an addiction so it is difficult for them to give up.”

Dr McBride also said he would like to see health trusts doing more to protect patients from the dangerous effects of smoking.

The Western Health Trust is planning to implement a complete ban on smoking on its premises and Dr McBride said such a scheme could be extended.

“This is certainly something that should be considered although I do appreciate that, in some cases, both patients and their relatives can be extremely anxious while in hospital and given that tobacco is such an addictive substance, this may be difficult,” he said.

He also said the DHSSPS is supportive of proposals under consideration at Westminster to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

Background

The new strategy from the DHSS&PS has three objectives: to reduce the numbers of people taking up smoking; to encourage more smokers to quit, and to afford greater protection for the whole population from tobacco-related harm. It comes ahead of a ban on the sale of tobacco products from vending machines which begins tomorrow. Further measures to tackle the number of smoking-related deaths will be implemented later.

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