Radical legislation to ban smoking in vehicles carrying children has been approved by Health Minister James Reilly and will be enforced before the summer.
Under the draft legislation, to be completed by the end of this month, passengers as well as drivers face fines of €3,000 for smoking in a commercial or private vehicle with children.
The health initiative, originally proposed by senators, is expected to be rolled out by July at the latest after approval by Oireachtas members and has been given the backing of gardaí and justice officials.
A stumbling block was overcome with agreement that gardaí can rely solely on visual evidence if cases come before the courts.
Senator John Crown told the Irish Examiner that Mr Reilly’s advisers and the Department of Health agreed to complete the Children’s Health Protection Bill by the end of January.
The agreement was made by department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin and other health officials at a meeting with Prof Crown and his staff just a few days before Christmas.
“They said the end of January and we are taking them at their word on that. It’s a human rights issue. We see it as a form of child abuse as they [children] are not of the age of consent and are exposed to cancer causing emissions from an addict.”
A stumbling block for the planned legislation was the issue of how gardaí would enforce it, matters around proof of age for children as well as the rights of a driver. There were also matters around who would be held responsible for smoking in the car and whether it was just the driver alone or passenger too.
It will be an offence for someone to smoke in a car with a child present.
But it will also be an offence for someone to permit someone else to smoke in a car with a child. Both the driver and a passenger can be found guilty.
The same measures apply as to rules applied in the workplace in 2004, where offenders face fines of up to €3,000 for an offence.
Existing legislation will allow gardaí to judge if a child is underage without the need for identification. Enforcers will also be able to rely solely on their recall of visually seeing a cigarette lit in the car if called on to give evidence in court.
Prof Crown added: “The principal purpose of this new legislation is education. So down the line kids will nag their parents and so on, when it becomes the mindset of people.”
The legislation was originally proposed by Prof Crown, independent senator Jillian van Turnhout and Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly.
The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed plans for the extended smoking ban and said it must be backed by an awareness campaign.
Prof Crown has shown research that demonstrates smoke in a vehicle is 40 times more harmful to children than in a room.
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