This week in Parliament, MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of stopping smoking in cars with children present. In doing so, they put the rights of children not to breath in high levels of dangerous chemicals above the rights of adults to smoke cigarettes in cars in their presence. This is an incredibly positive move and will prevent millions of children being exposed to dangerous chemicals every week.
Around one in five young children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in cars and experts say children are especially vulnerable to passive smoking because of their smaller lungs and quicker breathing. According to the British Lung Foundation, nearly half a million children in England are exposed to potentially toxic levels of second-hand smoke in family cars every week.
Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer. Exposure has been strongly linked to chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death in children, and research indicates that 300,000 children in the UK visit a GP each year because of the effects of second-hand smoke, with 9,500 going to hospital. Unsurprisingly, polling shows that 80% of the public support a ban on smoking in cars with children present.
Every single Labour MP voted last night to protect children from harmful smoke and they were supported by a large number of Conservatives, including the Tory Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. David Cameron, although not present, also pledged his support for a ban. I was ashamed to read, however, that Lincoln’s Conservative MP Karl McCartney voted to allow smoking in cars with children to continue.
Whilst I consider Mr McCartney’s stance to be disgraceful, his vote last night did not surprise me. Since Karl McCartney was elected in 2010, he’s accepted over £1,300 of hospitality from tobacco companies and supported them where he can. He signed a letter to a national newspaper opposing plain packaging of cigarettes and stood up in Parliament to attack the pub smoking ban, which doctors say has saved thousands of lives.
In voting to allow smoking in cars with children present to continue, Mr McCartney ignored the advice of health experts, the overwhelming weight of public opinion and even the example set by his own Tory Party leader and Health Secretary. Most significantly though, he signalled that he values the rights of big tobacco and the rights of car smokers over the rights of children not to be put at high levels of risk.
This isn’t just highly misjudged, it’s shameful.