Poll: Should Northern Ireland ban smoking in cars where children are passengers?
Northern Ireland's MPs have been urged to back a ban on smoking in cars where children are passengers.
The call came from the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association which warned that many motorists are harming their own children's health.
The intervention came ahead of a vote in the House of Commons today on whether or not people should be prohibited from smoking in cars with children present.
Any resulting ban would only cover England but the association's chief executive said he hoped any legislation would spark the Stormont Assembly into taking its own action.
"The research damns those who cause such harm to the developing lungs of innocent children," said Andrew Dougal.
"Many of these children are unable to speak and those who can may be afraid to do so."
Mr Dougal, who attended last week's debate in the Assembly which supported plain packaging for cigarettes in an attempt to stop young people taking up the habit, said nicotine was as addictive as heroin.
"We are very aware of the lengths to which such addicts will go to get a fix," he added.
"In the same way, totally governed by addiction, parents will harm their own children."
He warned: "It is essential that Northern Ireland children are afforded the same protection as those in England."
The organisation has written to the province's 18 MPs putting the case for action to curtail smokers from polluting the developing lungs of children.
"Although this legislation, if passed, will in the first instance not apply in Northern Ireland it is the fervent hope off all medical and health organisations that it will galvanise our own Assembly into prompt action," said Mr Dougal.
His comments followed another letter signed by more than 700 doctors and other health experts in Britain which has urged MPs to back a ban "to protect the wellbeing of children now and in the future".
Signatories include nurses, doctors and surgeons who argued that second-hand smoke exposure is a "major cause of ill-health in children".
A public consultation here was launched by Education Minister Edwin Poots in March last year.
He told the Assembly he recognised some people would see it as a "step too far".
But he added: "Passive smoking is a health issue which I take very seriously, particularly when those affected by it are children."
* 15% of adults smoke in their cars, even if passengers include children.
* Just over a fifth of adults smoke – and more than a fifth admit to smoking with children present.
* Smoke can stay in the air for up to two and-a-half hours even with a window open.
* Exposure has been linked to chest infections, asthma and cot death in children.