The new regulations add to the existing ban on smoking on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person, and a new ban on smoking in private vehicles heralds a dual enforcement approach between councils and police.
A law making it illegal to smoke in a car with children is now in force in Northern Ireland. The move brings it in line with the other regions of the UK after several years of disparity. England and Wales introduced legislation in 2015, with Scotland following a year later.
The change to the law recognises that 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. This can lead to increased risk of asthma, respiratory infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as reduced respiratory function.
Robin Swann, Minister for Health in Northern Ireland said: “Second-hand smoke is largely invisible and contains harmful particulates. 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.”
The new regulations extend the current smoke-free provisions in Northern Ireland. Legislation is already in place to ban smoking on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person. It will now be an offence for a driver to fail to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle, for example.
‘Authorities will have the option of issuing warnings, fixed penalty notices of £50 or referring an alleged offence straight to court, with fines of up to £2,500.’
Currently, enforcement of smoke-free legislation is the sole responsibility of district councils. The regulations relating to smoking in private vehicles will bring into effect a dual enforcement approach between councils and the police. Authorities will have the option of issuing warnings, fixed penalty notices of £50 or referring an alleged offence straight to court, where fines of up to £2,500 are possible.
Another law, banning the sale of e-cigarettes and other nicotine-inhaling products to anyone aged under 18, has also come into force. According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine while still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. There are also concerns that the use of such products may act as a gateway to smoking.
Minister Swann said that responsible retailers have already taken action to prevent sales of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or vapes to under-18s. He warned that any retailers who fail to do so risk a substantial fine and a complete ban on selling such products for up to three years.
Enforcement officers will have the option of issuing fixed penalty notices for selling these products to under-18s or for proxy purchasing for a minor. The amount for both offences would be £250.
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