There should be a ban on smoking in cars carrying children, the head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said today.
Professor Terence Stephenson argued it should be illegal to inflict smoke on youngsters in cars and rejected claims that it amounted to introducing the nanny state.
"We should make it illegal to smoke in cars when children are in the vehicle," he said.
"Why on earth would you light up in your car whilst your children are sitting quite happily in the back?
"On the assumption that you wouldn't pass the packet round and invite the kids to light up, why make them breathe tobacco smoke at all?
"You can't inflict this on your colleagues at work any more. Why should we treat our children's health as a lower priority than our employees?"
Prof Stephenson, writing for the BBC website's Scrubbing Up column, said that as a health professional sometimes "you just can't win".
He added: "If you act to make people safer, you get accused of introducing the nanny state.
"If you let people make their own decisions, you get accused of neglect.
"It is admittedly slightly easier when children are involved - we are naturally risk-averse with our own children and by extension with other people's - this is legitimate nanny territory."
He said parents in the UK have smoked around their children for generations.
"My parents put me and my brothers and sisters in the back of their car, started their three hour journey and lit up cigarette after cigarette - often with the windows closed."
He also pointed to a study published by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit which showed that smoking just one cigarette created pollution inside a car that was 100 times greater than accepted US standards.
"New Brunswick is the latest province in Canada to introduce legislation banning smoking in cars with children," he continued.
"This change in legislation will prohibit smoking in a car when there is a child under the age of 16 in it.
"Extremely sensible, common sense - but seen by some as too draconian and the trickling of nanny state rules again.
"Second-hand smoke has been found to be strongly linked to chest infections in children, asthma, ear problems and sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death.
"We should be making cars totally smoke-free if there are children travelling in them."
He said smoking at work was seen as normal a few year ago but was "now incredibly intrusive, not the norm".
He added: "I know many of you will disagree with me - perhaps strongly.
"Most changes designed to make life safer - seat-belts in cars, health warnings on cigarette packets - were initially met with scepticism or even derision when they were first proposed.
"Those of us in the medical profession, who see the results of passive smoking first hand, need to be ready to lead and make a convincing case.
"Only then can we hope that necessary measures are viewed not as the nanny state but as common sense."
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), supported a ban on smoking in cars.
The risks were not just to children but to adults suffering from conditions like heart disease, she said.
"Cars are small tin boxes, with not much air in them," she added.
"Smoking just one cigarette, even with the window open, creates a greater concentration of second-hand smoke than a whole evening's smoking in a pub or a bar.
"That's not just bad for children but for adults too, especially those who already have heart or lung diseases."
In the UK, there is a ban on smoking in commercial vehicles.
A spokeswoman from the road safety charity, Brake, said it also supported a ban on smoking in cars.
"There is no specific offence at the moment which says you can be charged with smoking at the wheel," she said.
"But you can be prosecuted for not having proper control of your vehicle.
"Having one hand off the wheel and dropping ash over yourself, or obstructing your view with smoking, means you are not concentrating on your driving.
"All that can add up to not having proper control of your vehicle or dangerous driving."
She said it might be useful to have a law banning smoking in the same way there was in force regarding using hand-held mobile phones.
"I think we would be in favour of a ban because there's some confusion at the moment whether it's dangerous."
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said today: "Adults should err on the side of caution when young children are in the car, but a ban is far too heavy-handed.
"It's unnecessarily intrusive. You can't legislate for every aspect of people's behaviour.
"Who's going to enforce it? The police have got better things to do with their time.
"Our fear is that this is a stepping stone to banning smoking in all cars, regardless of whether children are on board.
"Many cars are private spaces, like the home. Are we going to ban smoking at home too?"Reuse content