Government bans smoking in cars with children

In a major step forward for kids' health, the Government has announced it will ban smoking in cars with children - and police could fine those who don't obey.

Under the law change, announced on Sunday, police will be able to require people to stop smoking in their cars if children (under 18) are present. Police will also be able to give warnings, refer people to stop-smoking support services, or issue an infringement fee of $50.

Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa says this change is "first and foremost" about protecting children.

"Too many New Zealand children, particularly Māori and Pacific children, are exposed to second-hand smoke in the vehicles they usually travel in. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke due to their smaller lungs, higher respiratory rate and immature immune systems," she says.

"Public education and social marketing campaigns over many years have had some impact, but the rate of reduction in children exposed to smoking in vehicles is slowing. It is now time to do more by legislating."

The campaign to ban smoking in cars with kids has been led by The AM Show host Duncan Garner, who gathered more than 28,000 signatures on his petition for change.

Ms Salesa says there is strong support for legislating, with multiple surveys showing around 90 percent of the public support the ban.

The news has been welcomed by Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft, who says it will help 100,000 Kiwi kids every week.

"Many New Zealand children and young people are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars every day," Commissioner Becroft says.

"Once this legislation is passed they will no longer be forced to inhale this chemical poison."

Vaping will also be included in the prohibition and it will apply to all vehicles, whether they are parked or on the move.

"While some have questioned whether a ban can be enforced, there's really no issue. The police will be able to oversee it in the same way as they do the law on cell-phone use and seatbelts," the Children's Commissioner argues.

Ms Salesa says the legislation will be backed up with a public education effort.

"Ultimately, the focus of this change will be on education and changing social norms - not on issuing infringement notices," she says.

It is expected that this amendment will become law by the end of 2019.