Health Minister Robin Swann has urged people to give up smoking ahead of a new law aimed at protecting children from the harm caused by inhaling second-hand smoke.
From 1 February, the regulations will extend current smoke-free provisions to private vehicles where children are present, when there is more than one person in the vehicle, and the vehicle is enclosed. It will be an offence to smoke in such a vehicle and will also be an offence for a driver to fail to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle.
A media campaign will launch on 10 January highlighting the ban on smoking in private vehicles when children are present. It will include a programme of TV, radio, outdoor and digital advertising.
Minister Swann said: “It’s important that smokers are aware of the new regulations and realise that if you smoke in a car while a child is there, or if you’re the driver and you allow someone to smoke in these circumstances, you will be committing an offence which carries a hefty penalty.
“This change in the law is widely supported by the public, charities and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and with good reason: smoking kills thousands of people in Northern Ireland every year and exposure to second hand smoke damages the health of your loved ones, particularly children. I would encourage smokers to think of this further change in the law as the motivation to give up smoking once and for all.”
In addition, from 1 February, it will also be an offence to sell nicotine inhaling products to children and to purchase, or attempt to purchase, such products on behalf of a child (a proxy purchasing offence). These offences mirror current offences relating to tobacco sales. Communications with retailers will include direct correspondence, where possible, and digital information. A media campaign will commence on 17 January and will, in particular, highlight the proxy purchasing offences to the general public.
The Minister said: “Nicotine is highly addictive and, according to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. In addition to the potential long-term health implications of nicotine vaping by teenagers, there are also concerns that the use of such products may act as a gateway into smoking.
“We must do all we can to protect the health of our children and young people so I am very pleased to see the introduction of these new regulations on the sale of nicotine inhaling products.”
From 1 February, the sale of products such as e-cigarettes or vapes to children, and the purchase of them on behalf of children, can lead to significant penalties and, for repeated offences, retailers can be banned from selling such products for up to three years.
A series of radio broadcasts, digital communications and outdoor advertising will ensure that the public are aware that it is an offence to buy or attempt to buy nicotine inhaling products for children.
Notes to editors:
1. 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 district councils and the PSNI in relation to all smoke free vehicles.
2. Enforcement authorities will have the option of issuing fixed penalty notices for offences in relation to smoking in a private vehicle in which children are present. The amount for both offences, ie smoking in a private smoke-free vehicle and failing to prevent smoking in a private smoke-free vehicle, is £50. This mirrors the penalty for smoking in a smoke-free public or workplace vehicle. Decisions as to whether to issue warnings, fixed penalty notices or refer an alleged offence straight to the court will be at the discretion of the enforcement authority.
3. On summary conviction of an offence of (i) smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle, a court can award a fine to a maximum of level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1,000), and on conviction of an offence of failure to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle, a court can award a fine to a maximum of level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500). Failure to pay a fixed penalty notice could also result in the matter being referred to court. A person in receipt of a fixed penalty notice can also request a court hearing.
4. In relation to the offence of smoking in a smoke-free vehicle, it will be the person smoking who would be guilty of the offence. The age of the person smoking is irrelevant.
5. With respect to the offence of failing to prevent smoking in a private smoke-free vehicle, in all circumstances it will be the driver of the vehicle who would be guilty of the offence (as the person with responsibility for the vehicle).
7. The enforcement of the regulations banning the sale of nicotine inhaling products to those under 18, and proxy purchasing of such products by an adult on behalf of a child, will be the responsibility of Tobacco Enforcement Officers in district councils.
8. Nicotine inhaling products (NIPs) include e-cigarettes, commonly known as vapes, and enforcement officers will have the option of issuing fixed penalty notices for either offence committed in relation to the sale of a nicotine inhaling product to a minor. The amount for both offences, i.e selling a NIP to a person under 18 and the offence of proxy purchasing would be £250. This mirrors the penalties for comparable tobacco related offences.
9. An alleged offence may also be referred directly to court and, on summary conviction of either offence, a court can award a fine of up to a maximum of level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000). Failure to pay a fixed penalty notice could also result in the matter being referred to court. Details available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/age-restricted-sales
10. Section 3 (1) of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 will also be commenced in conjunction with the regulations. This will integrate the sale of nicotine inhaling products into the existing enforcement regime relating to the persistent commission of tobacco offences. A person or a business found to be repeatedly selling NIPs to children could receive a Restricted Sales Order or a Restricted Premises Order from the court. Such an order can prohibit the sale of nicotine inhaling or tobacco products by a named individual or a business premises for up to 3 years.
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