Smoking in cars and smoking in China…

SMOKING in cars or smoking in China? One of these is now covered by a new law in England and Wales. And the other is set to kill one in three young Chinese men.

The statistics for smoking in cars in China do not seem to be available, but as the Chinese are so big on smoking, it seems likely that they would light up in a car.

The law on smoking in cars in England and Wales came into force on October 1. Motorists who smoke in a vehicle carrying a person under 18 are now breaking the law and face fixed penalty fines of £50. Drivers face a double-scoop of a fine if they fail to stop a passenger smoking and are smoking themselves.

The health logic is irrefutable, although the measure presents certain difficulties. It also represents a big step up in the powers of the police to intervene in a private space.

Personally I think that anyone who smokes in a car needs their head dunking in a vat of nicotine. Although thinking again, they are more or less doing that to themselves, bit by tar-soggy bit. Smoking in a car is even viler than smoking anywhere else, and lighting up when there are children in the car is plain irresponsible.

So it is easy to see why Parliament wanted this new law. In political terms it was win-win: it’s hard to fight for your right to expose children to your second-hand smoke. You’d have to be dipped deep in polluting fag treacle to pull that one off. But someone is probably coughing up the liberty excuse at this moment: as in “that’s a bloody liberty”.

Smoking is a private pleasure and a public nuisance. Well, smoking is less of a public nuisance than it used to be, thanks to the ban on smoking in pubs and other places. And all praise to that ban, and never mind what the people shuffling around outside the pub say in between lighting up and stubbing out.

Incidentally, the only annoyance for non-smokers is that the once-pleasant spaces outside pubs are filled with smoke and fag butts, forcing the nicotine-free back inside on a sunny day.

But are there complications with this new ban? For a start the police officer has to spot someone smoking and see that there is a child in the car; and that ‘child’ could be a youthful-looking 19-year-old, for example. Also, e-cigarette are not banned from use in a car and it will be difficult to spot the difference between real and ‘pretend’ cigarettes, as each produce clouds of smoke or steamy ersatz smoke.

The law has considered certain exceptions. For instance, you can smoke in a convertible if the roof is fully down, so that is one escape route for stubborn smokers. Try that one with the sun-roof open and a child on board, however, and you will still face a fine. However, a 17-year-old driving a car alone can light up. You can’t smoke in a motorhome when driving along the road, but you can when it is parked up and being lived in. And so on. Whether or not you can smoke while riding a motorbike is not recorded, perhaps due to the difficulty of pulling this off.

A report in the Lancet today suggests that tobacco will kill two million Chinese by 2030 and could reach three million by 2050 if the government takes no action. According to the Lancet, about two-thirds of Chinese men take up smoking at a young age (the figure is much lower for women).  To grasp the scale of this, China consumes more than a third of all the cigarettes in the world – a further complication being that China Tobacco is a government monopoly that produces seven per cent of central government’s annual revenue. So official measures to curb smoking could set one arm of the government against the other.

But in China as here, there has been some success, and the number of smokers quitting is slowly on the rise. So there is hope.

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