Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the support of Northern Ireland Assembly members for plans to ban smoking in private vehicles when children are present, as well as preventing the sale of nicotine inhaling products such as e-cigarettes to those aged under 18.
Legislation is already in place which bans smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles including on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person. These new regulations extend the current smoke-free provisions to private vehicles where children are present, when there is more than one person in the vehicle, and the vehicle is enclosed. It will also be an offence for a driver to fail to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle.
Minister Swann said: “I am delighted that Assembly members have recognised the importance of these public health initiatives. The smoke free-private vehicles regulations will play an important role in protecting children from the harms of second-hand smoke whilst travelling.
“In the 2019 Young Persons Behaviours and Attitudes Survey, 18% of 11-16 year olds who reported living with an adult smoker also reported that adults smoke in the family car when children are present. Second-hand smoke is largely invisible and contains harmful particulates.”
Children and young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults. The Royal College of Physicians has reported that this can lead to increased risk of asthma, lower respiratory infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as reduced respiratory function.
The Minister added: “The regulations will come into force on 1 February 2022. Whilst the changes are primarily focused on protecting children, I would encourage smokers to use this lead-in time to seek advice about quitting, so as to extend the benefits to all those with whom they share homes and to their own health. This could be one of the most beneficial New Year’s resolutions you ever make.”
From 1 February 2022, it will also be an offence to sell nicotine inhaling products to children and to purchase, or attempt to purchase, such products on behalf of a child (a proxy purchasing offence). These offences mirror current offences relating to tobacco sales.
Minister Swann said: “Nicotine is highly addictive and, according to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. In addition to the potential long-term health implications of nicotine vaping by teenagers, there are also concerns that the use of such products may act as a gateway into smoking.
“Responsible retailers will already have taken action to prevent sales of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or vapes to under-18s. But for any who have not, my message is clear: sales of these products to children will not be tolerated - you risk a substantial fine and a ban on selling such products for up to three years.”