As of 1 October 2015, new laws came into effect making it illegal to smoke in a vehicle if carrying children as passengers. Financial penalties will be imposed on those who contravene these new rules.

The move follows a similar ban imposed in Wales and aims to protect young people under 18 from the effects of passive smoking.

342 MPs voted in favour of this change with only 74 voting against it. However the issue does seem to have divided political parties and provoked some fierce debate about public health and individual freedom. Nick Clegg has previously described the ban as “profoundly illiberal”. David Cameron himself has questioned the practicalities of a ban but did ultimately change his mind.

Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, explained why these new rules are so important “Three million children are exposed to second hand smoke in cars, putting their health at risk. We know that many of them feel embarrassed or frightened to ask adults to stop smoking which is why the regulations are an important step in protecting children from the harms of second hand smoke.”

Not everyone is convinced by these changes. Simon Clark, Director of the smokers’ group Forest, feels the legislation is excessive. He states “The overwhelming majority of smokers know it’s inconsiderate to smoke in a car with children and they don’t do it. They don’t need the state micro-managing their lives”

So, what are the new changes?

As of 1 October 2015, it is an offence for a person of any age to smoke in a private ‘enclosed vehicle’ if they are carrying someone who is under 18. In addition, it will be an offence for a driver (including a provisional licence holder) not to stop someone smoking in these circumstances.

What is classed as an “enclosed vehicle”?

The new legislation covers any private vehicle that is enclosed wholly or partly by a roof. A convertible vehicle with the roof completely down and stowed away is not enclosed and so would not fall foul of the legislation. However, a vehicle with the sunroof open would still be considered enclosed and would be covered by the legislation.

The rules apply to caravans, campervans and motorhomes if being used as a vehicle, but do not apply when they are being used as living accommodation.

The penalties

Those caught committing an offence will be liable to receive a fixed penalty notice in the sum of GBP 50. Those caught committing both offences can receive two fines. Enforcement Officers (usually the Police) will use their discretion in deciding when to impose a Fixed Penalty Notice of GBP 50 and when to refer a matter to Court.

If the case is referred to Court, the passenger caught smoking in a vehicle carrying children can face a fine of up to GBP 800. However the driver convicted of failing to prevent someone smoking whilst carrying children as passengers could face a fine of up to GBP 10,000.

Why is the law changing?

The dangers of passive smoking have been known for quite some time. What you might not have known however, is that smoke can stay in the air for up to two and a half hours, even with a window open. Exposure to this second hand smoke has been strongly linked to chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death in children.