Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the support of Northern Ireland Assembly members for plans to ban smoking in private vehicles when children are present, as well as preventing the sale of nicotine inhaling products such as e-cigarettes to those aged under 18.
Legislation is already in place which bans smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles including on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person. These new regulations extend the 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 also be an offence for a driver to fail to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle.
Minister Swann said: “I am delighted that Assembly members have recognised the importance of these public health initiatives. The smoke free-private vehicles regulations will play an important role in protecting children from the harms of second-hand smoke whilst travelling.
“In the 2019 Young Persons Behaviours and Attitudes Survey, 18% of 11-16 year olds who reported living with an adult smoker also reported that adults smoke in the family car when children are present. Second-hand smoke is largely invisible and contains harmful particulates.”
Children and young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults. The Royal College of Physicians has reported that this can lead to increased risk of asthma, lower respiratory infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as reduced respiratory function.
The Minister added: “The regulations will come into force on 1 February 2022. Whilst the changes are primarily focused on protecting children, I would encourage smokers to use this lead-in time to seek advice about quitting, so as to extend the benefits to all those with whom they share homes and to their own health. This could be one of the most beneficial New Year’s resolutions you ever make.”
From 1 February 2022, 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.
Minister Swann 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.
“Responsible retailers will already have taken action to prevent sales of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or vapes to under-18s. But for any who have not, my message is clear: sales of these products to children will not be tolerated - you risk a substantial fine and a ban on selling such products for up to three years.”
Notes to editors:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Information on the new regulations can be found at NIDirect. Advice on how to get help to stop smoking is available at the following link https://www.stopsmokingni.info/
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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