Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors’ leaders call for “bold” step to ban smoking in private cars

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 17 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7483
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

The government should take a “bold” step to legislate for a ban on smoking in private cars in the United Kingdom, claim doctors’ leaders.

The BMA has called on the four UK administrations to introduce an extension to current smoke free legislation to include a ban on smoking in private cars, claiming there is compelling scientific evidence to support the move.

The Department of Health, however, has rejected the call, saying there are better ways to encourage behaviour change and promising to launch a publicity campaign next year on the dangers of second hand smoke.

MPs are due to debate the issue on 25 November when the House of Commons will have a second reading of Labour MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham’s private members’ bill, which calls for a ban on smoking in private vehicles with children present.

The BMA published a briefing paper Smoking in Vehicles on 16 November, which concludes there is strong evidence that smoking in vehicles exposes non-smokers to high levels of second hand smoke.

The danger arises from the restrictive internal environment in motor vehicles, which exposes drivers and passengers to 23 times more toxins than in a smoky bar, says the briefing paper.

Children and other vulnerable individuals, such as older people, are at an even higher risk from these health dangers, it adds.

Every year around 82 500 deaths in England are thought to be caused by smoking, and this figure worldwide is around six million.

The BMA was unapologetic in calling for the ban in the context of its desire for UK governments to achieve a tobacco free society by 2035.

“This ambitious target requires a comprehensive, adequately funded tobacco control strategy focussing on tough and progressive measures to reduce the demand for, and supply of, tobacco products,” says the paper.

Vivienne Nathanson, BMA director of professional activities, said: “Behind the stark statistics, doctors see the individual cases of ill health and premature death caused by smoking and second hand smoke.

“We are calling on UK governments to take the bold and courageous step of banning smoking in private vehicles. The evidence for extending the smoke-free legislation is compelling.”

Simon Clark, director of the smoking pro-choice lobby group Forest, said the BMA proposal was excessive and unnecessary.

“We think parents should not smoke in cars with children there, but we think we can achieve that goal through education rather than legislation,” said Mr Clark.

“We do question some of the science on passive smoking and the harm that smoking in a car might have on the other passengers. Some of the statistics are exaggerated. The BMA’s proposal is extremely excessive.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has called on the Department of Health to conduct a public consultation on the policy options to reduce the harm of smoking in private vehicles.

The group’s MPs held an inquiry earlier this month and published a report, Inquiry into Smoking in Private Vehicles, on 16 November. It recommends that in addition to the public consultation, the government should conduct a systematic review of the evidence.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We do not believe that legislation is the most effective way to encourage people to change their behaviour.

“We will be launching a national marketing campaign next year to remind smokers of the risks of exposing children and adults to second hand smoke.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7483


View Abstract