A Labour MP has called for a ban on adults smoking in cars where children are present, saying it would bring “tremendous” health benefits.
Alex Cunningham said children were particularly vulnerable to the effects of passive smoking and could not “remove” themselves from cars where cigarette smoke was circulating.
Parents simply exercising restraint was “not good enough”, he told MPs.
But one Tory MP called the plan “over the top” and “ludicrous”.
Mr Cunningham said the “science was clear” about the dangers of passive smoking and that societal attitudes had changed on the issue in the past decade – reflected by the ban on smoking in public transport, planes and taxis.
Research suggested more than 300,000 children visited doctors every year with health problems associated with passive smoke, he said, while there were 20,000 new cases of asthma and wheezing among children every year.
The Labour MP acknowledged many people felt the car was a “private space” but he believed it was children’s space as well and “some people were invading it with dangerous smoke”.
He told MPs: “Adults can make up their mind about the dangers of smoking. It is children we need to protect,” he added.
“The fact that children can be exposed to such an environment in cars is reason enough to bring in a ban on smoking in private vehicles where they are present.
“I can’t see how it would be any real hardship to anyone to stop smoking in private vehicles and the benefits will be tremendous.”
Mr Cunningham said a ban had been introduced in several US states, including California, as well as in parts of Canada and Australia and had growing support in the UK among health campaigners and the public.
But Tory MP Philip Davies – who campaigns against political correctness – said it should be up to parents to decide whether they smoked in cars and there was a “complete lack of evidence” about the beneficial impact of the proposal.
“This proposal is excessive, intrusive and insulting to British parents who smoke,” Mr Davies said.
“The suggestion of banning smoking in private vehicles with a minor present is yet another unwarranted intrusion on individual freedom. The government should have no role at all in regulating the private lives of adults who make decisions as adults.”
MPs voted to allow Mr Cunningham’s ten-minute rule bill to be considered at a future date by 78 to 66.
However, as a private member’s bill, the likelihood of it becoming law is slight.
The Department of Health has previously said parents should keep cars smoke free “voluntarily”.