A ban on smoking in cars with children on board has been passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly tonight (Monday).
It is expected to come into force early next year.
In addition, a new tax on sugary drinks – in a bid to tackle obesity issues – has also been approved.
These measures were put forward as amendments to the Health Bill.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton is to seek further advice in relation to the sugary drinks tax as he told the House that the Assembly may not have the powers to bring forward this levy in Northern Ireland.
In relation to the smoking ban in cars carrying children – which came into force in England and Wales last October and was brought in in the Republic at the start of this year – the Minister has indicated that it would be 2017 at the earliest before it could be introduced here.
Among those speaking in support of the ban was Ulster Unionist Health spokesperson and Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson.
She told the Assembly: “Smoking causes harm, not only for the individual but for those around them. When people decide to smoke, they take a conscious decision to do so. However, when people have to breathe in other people’s smoke, they have little choice in the matter. Second-hand smoke is a toxic by-product that is medically proven to affect anyone who is exposed to it.
“The ban on smoking indoors in public places split public opinion when it was first proposed. However, even the most ardent smoker would not think about lighting a cigarette in a restaurant or pub now.
“Who could possibly disagree that the ban has not only helped the health of our workers but also greatly improved those environments? People have been protected in public areas and in their workplaces since 2007.
“On that issue, we also have the smoking ban in psychiatric hospitals, which is due to come into effect next month. That will, in itself, raise a number of questions over how it can be effectively managed by staff.
“However, there is very little legislation in place to protect children and young people from the effects of smoking.
“Young people are particularly vulnerable to exposure to second-hand smoke; much more so than adults, which is why the amendments are so important. Medical practitioners will tell you that children’s bodies are still developing and that exposure to harmful substances puts them at risk of severe respiratory diseases.
“Exposure to second-hand smoke is known to cause asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, sudden infant death syndrome, middle ear infection and a raft of other health problems.
“In addition, children who are exposed to smoke from an early age are statistically much more likely to smoke later in life.
“Most drivers already take an active decision not to smoke in cars if children are travelling with them, but one of the leading local charities believes that as many as 13,000 children may still be exposed to second-hand smoke in cars across Northern Ireland.
“Some parents smoke in cars under the assumption that winding down the car window will let the smoke out, but, as we have heard, in reality, that only pushes it back into the car. In such a confined space, smoke can reach up to 10 times the recognised unhealthy level, and it often lingers for hours.
“People should, absolutely, be free to do what they wish, within the law, in their homes and cars. I appreciate that some people will be concerned when they hear about the Assembly taking decisions such as this, but before people jump to a conclusion I urge them to consider the issue and accept that when actions are harming the lives of children, the Assembly should have a duty to intervene and introduce safeguards that limit such actions and harm.
“Whilst I do not expect the PSNI to be carrying out roadblocks as a result of this legislation, it is my hope that criminalising smoking in cars with children will prevent people from doing it in the first place.”
Both amendments were passed.