Children are the most vulnerable members of society and should not be subjected to poisonous and deadly fumes from tobacco. This is the argument for a recent change in the law regarding smoking in cars with children present. Schools, train stations and restaurants are now some of the public spaces which are smoke free as a result of the 2007 smoking law, which saw a ban on smoking in all public spaces.
Since then, further calls have tried to restrict smokers being able to light up in outdoor spaces, them being considered public. For example, in South Wales, British Transport Police have actively fined individuals smoking at a railway station, and a recent ban has also been enforced by Cardiff and the Vale Health Board in 2013 that saw smoking banned from their property. These examples illustrate how smoking has been marginalised into the private sphere, which is very different to the memory I have of my childhood, returning from Bath Spa sitting in a carriage where a large number of people were smoking. Go on any train in the UK today, and this scene could not be repeated.
Notwithstanding, children spend a significant amount of time in the private sphere when they are not in school, which could include the family car. These spaces are not classified as public space, and therefore are not covered by existing legislation. In 2015, however, this will change. On the 1st October 2015, the English government will outlaw smoking in cars containing children (a child being someone aged 17 and under). Similar laws are also being introduced in other parts of the UK. For example, in Wales, individuals caught smoking in cars with children present will be fined £50. It appears, therefore, that future generations of children will not be at all affected by adults smoking in the car.
It appears that smoking is becoming more and more detached from daily life within the UK. It is portrayed as socially unacceptable and something to discourage and actively prevent, according to various sources such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the UK Government. Proposals were also put forward by the British Medical Association in early 2014 to, in effect, make smoking illegal for anyone born after the year 2000. Whilst these proposals have not been adopted as policy, it demonstrates the shift in the discourse surrounding smoking of tobacco.
However, it has not always been this way. A child born in the 1950s would have been born into a society with a very different attitude towards smoking. If you had been born in the 1950s, you would have been born in a society where smoking was a normal part of everyday life. For example, medical professionals smoked more Camels (a cigarette brand) than any other rival competitor, according to one advert from the time. Today, a doctor smoking would be seen as hypocritical, in the 1950s they were stylish and attractive. A rival tobacco firm was also advertised that they were the most popular with dentists.
Of course, there were many other advertisements which from the 1950s which show what is now completely socially unacceptable. For example, an advertisement by the coffee brand Chase and Sanborn showed a woman being smacked by her husband because of the quality of the coffee which she has bought him. This perhaps demonstrates how our attitude has not just changed towards smoking, as it has also changed towards gender equality, domestic violence, race and ethnicity, marriage… the list goes on.
However, what links all of these together is that attitudes towards these things did not just change overnight. They evolved. Of course, the publication of a number of high profiled reports and studies from the 1960s started the process of change. As evidence became available, individuals began questioning the general consensus that smoking was acceptable. Since the 1980s, there has also been an emphasis on individual responsibility in regards to their health. Now it is an individual’s responsibility to live a healthy life. Part of this healthy life involves not smoking at all, as well as taking regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, amongst other behavioural traits.
Whilst this law only covers cars with children present in them, the significance of this legislation cannot be underestimated. It represents a huge change in social attitudes towards smoking. If successful, this act will be the first to regulate smoking as a behaviour in the private space. However, if further legislation and regulation of smoking is seen as desirable, huge questions must be asked first about the relationship the UK has with those who smoke. Is further regulation and legislation necessary and desirable, when statistics continually show the decreasing number of individuals smoking? The health of children is extremely important, but any further regulation must be carefully thought through to balance between the rights of the child and the person’s right to smoke.
Image: © Camilo Rueda López (kozumel, flickr).