Smoking in cars

Smoking in a private vehicle when someone under the age of 18 is present became illegal in England and Wales on the 1st October 2015.

We worked with the British Lung Foundation and Fresh Start Wales to implement this historic piece of legislation. We supported the Welsh Government in their campaign to raise awareness of the change to the law. We're pleased that our joint campaigning, backed up by public support, has led to the successful creation and implementation of this new law.


Key points about the law

The law has created two new offences: one for the person smoking and one for the driver for failing to prevent smoking in a car with a child under 18 present. An offence is committed only when the vehicle is enclosed and more than one person is present:

  • It is an offence for a person of any age to smoke in a private vehicle that is carrying someone under 18
  • It is an offence for a driver, including a provisional driver, not to stop someone smoking in a private vehicle that is carrying someone under 18
  • The law applies even if the windows or sunroof are open, have the air conditioning on, or if they sit in the open doorway of the vehicle. It does not apply when if the roof is fully down on a convertible car
  • Both the driver and the smoker could be fined £50 if they are caught breaching the legislation
  • The law applies to every driver in England and Wales, including those aged 17 and those with a provisional driving licence
  • The law does not apply if the driver is 17 and is smoking alone in a private vehicle
  • The rules don’t apply to e-cigarettes
Smoking In Cars2

Why ban smoking in cars?

Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke. They have smaller lungs, faster breathing and less developed immune systems, which make them more susceptible to respiratory and ear infections triggered by passive smoking1. This new law is not designed to turn smokers into criminals, but it is about protecting children from the avoidable dangers that tobacco smoke presents to their health and well-being.

Smoking near children can cause a range of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and reduced lung function. Passive smoking results in more than 165,000 new episodes of disease of all types among children, 300,000 primary care consultations, 9,500 hospital admissions and around 40 cases of sudden infant death syndrome each year2.

The exposure of children to second-hand smoke in cars was reported on in the 2014 CHETS Wales 2 study. The researchers found that 3.6% of all children aged 10 and 11 in the sample, equating to 7.0% of children of smokers, reported having been in a car where someone was smoking the previous day, relative to the equivalent figures of 6.9% and 13.5% recorded in 2007.

Research has shown that a single cigarette smoked in a moving car with the window half open exposes a child in the centre of the back seat to around two thirds as much second-hand smoke as in an average smoke-filled pub. Levels increase to over eleven times those of a smoky pub when the cigarette is smoked in a stationary car with the windows closed3.

Public support for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children under 18 stood at 4 out of 5 Welsh adults (79%) in 20144 & 6.

Evidence from Canada has shown that countries with a ban have seen a steeper decline in children’s exposure to second-hand smoke in vehicles than countries running education campaigns alone.

Smoking In Cars3


Enforcement of the new law will largely be taken forward by police officers in conjunction with their wider functions on road safety. Police officers already monitor for a number of other offences committed in moving vehicles, such as the wearing of seat belts, use of child safety seats and use of mobile phones. A fine of £50 will be issued for both offences.

Effect of regulations

The Department of Health estimates that the law will produce a net benefit of £33million over the ten years from its introduction. These large savings are based on children’s ill-health and use of NHS services due to second-hand smoke exposure5.

Evidence suggests that educational campaigns together with legislation can be very effective in changing behaviour. For example, efforts to encourage seatbelt use in cars were most successful when legislation was introduced. After legislation was implemented, seatbelt wearing rates increased in the UK from 25% to 91%6. The Department of Health confirmed that the success of the smokefree legislation will be measured in positive behaviour change rather than the number of fines given out7.


Other jurisdictions

Action has already been taken to protect children’s health in a number of other countries around the world. Smoking in cars carrying children is already prohibited in 4 US states, 10 of 13 Canadian provinces, and in six countries, including Australia.



1Annual report of the Chief Medical Officer 2002. Department of Health, 2003.

2All references in paragraph: Passive smoking and children: A report by the Tobacco Advisory Group. Royal College of Physicians, 2010.

3Sendzik, Fong, Travers, Hyland, An experimental investigation of tobacco smoke pollution in cars, Nicotine Tob Res, 2009; 11(6):627-34.

3 & 6YouGov 2014, Total sample size was 1093 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th to 14th March 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Wales adults (aged 18+).

4A vehicle will be regarded as enclosed even if windows and doors are open, to mirror legislation already in place for smokefree enclosed public spaces.

5Page 3, Smokefree (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2014: Impact assessment, Department of Health, July 2014.

6P.21, Seat-belts and child restraints. World Health Organisation/ FIA Foundation, 2009.

7Paragraph 32, Smokefree (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2014: Impact assessment, Department of Health, July 2014.