Drivers could be fined £10,000 if they allow smoking with a child present in the car

smokingDrivers and passengers of cars in England both face being slapped with huge fines if they are caught smoking with children present.

In February of this year MPs voted in a majority for an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children.

However, new regulations could result in drivers of the vehicle actually incurring a fine of over 10 times that of the maximum £800 charge for the person who is smoking (i.e. the passenger).

There are health campaigners who stress such a strict move will save thousands of lives, with children not being forced to inhale the dangerous, toxic chemicals contained in each cigarette.

Opposition to the proposed penalties argue it is ‘excessive and unnecessary’ and merely an example of the government ‘flexing its muscles’.

The idea for the smoking ban in cars was passed by a clear majority of MPs in February, resulting in ministers having to devise clear legislation on the matter.

The cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday led to a consultation leaking out with details of the regulations. In the small print contained information about what offenders can expect to be hit with, stating: ‘A person who does not comply with the law would be committing a criminal offence.’

For anyone caught either lighting up in a smoke free vehicle, or failing to prevent smoking in a smoke free vehicle, enforcement officers will be able to issue a £50 fixed penalty notice.

If this isn’t paid and the case ends up in court, the maximum fine could rise to £800 for anyone caught smoking in a car with a child inside and a ‘level 4’ fine of up to £10,000 for a driver failing to prevent somebody else from smoking.

For drivers wanting to avoid paying potentially thousands, they would need to be able to prove how they took ‘reasonable steps to cause the person smoking to stop smoking, or they did not and could not have reasonably known the person was smoking, or that there was some other reasonable ground for not complying with the duty’.

The Department of Health claims the fines have been created based on those already in place for anyone caught smoking in public places – an act made illegal in 2007.

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “The only effective way to protect children from secondhand smoke is to prevent them breathing it in in the first place. Exposure to secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, especially to children and a significant number of children say that they are exposed to secondhand smoke in private vehicles.”

Deputy PM Nick Clegg – a smoker himself – unsurprisingly opposed the plans as they went through parliament earlier in the year, saying that ‘as an old-fashioned liberal’ he believed that ‘laws and legislation are not always the solution’.

However, campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) want the banning on smoking in vehicles where children under the age of 18 are present put into action prior to the next parliament.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said: “Cars are small tin boxes where concentrations of tobacco smoke can reach dangerous levels very quickly.

“As David Cameron himself has said, the time has come for it to be illegal to make children breathe in these toxic fumes. Laws stopping smoking in cars with children are popular with the public, with parliament and with children and we urge the Government to bring them into force before the next election.”

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