Over 700 health experts have urged MPs to vote in favour of a ban on smoking in cars where children are present. The debate is notable for the fact that everyone agrees that smoking in a car when accompanied by a child is wrong, and shouldn’t be done under any circumstances. Yet some people still argue that it shouldn’t be made illegal. One of the most prominent is Nick Clegg, a smoker, who takes exactly this line.
If something really is such a terrible thing to do, and people shouldn’t be thinking about doing it under any circumstances, why would they not want it banned by law? If decent, civil, law-abiding person would never carry out a particular activity, what’s wrong with making it illegal? The only people who would be disadvantaged by the new law are people who are irresponsible, reckless and intent on damaging a child’s health. The only reason I can see for opposing a ban is because the opponent – Nick Clegg, for example – would actually put the so-called “rights” of an adult smoker ahead of the health of a defenceless child. The argument that a ban is illiberal doesn’t hold water. If it’s something that no decent-minded person would do anyway, what rights or freedoms it is taking away? Otherwise, one may as well propose abolishing laws against murder on the grounds that murder is wrong and no-one should do it anyway.
The other argument is that the law shouldn’t be introduced because it can’t be enforced, and that education alone will suffice. It’s interesting to compare this proposed law to the law on wearing seatbelts, where enforcement has much the same challenges. It’s rare now for people in the UK to fail to wear a seatbelt, but that’s due both to public education campaigns and to laws mandating the wearing of seatbelts. No one with a driving licence should be in any doubt that they are responsible for ensuring any children in their car wear seatbelts as it’s clearly spelt out in the Highway Code. A reminder that they should prevent adults from smoking in their car would be useful too. Opponents of the law on banning smoking in cars should logically oppose the law on seatbelts too, but how many of them would actually do so? In the future, we’ll look back and wonder why smoking was ever allowed if a child was present in a vehicle, just as we would find it hard today to imagine the wearing of seatbelts not being compulsory.