21 Aug 2019

Car smoking fines a punitive waste of time - health academic

2:13 pm on 21 August 2019

A public health academic has told the Health Select Committee plans to fine parents for smoking in a car with children will be a waste of time and won't protect children.

Smoking a cigarette in a car.

Photo: 123rf

The Committee heard submissions this morning on the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill, which proposes to fine people $50 if they are caught smoking with passengers under 18 years of age.

Researcher Marewa Glover heads the Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking and has studied smoking and its effects for 25 years. She told the Committee the Bill would not change a thing.

"If you don't want people smoking around children please put the money, time and effort into effective interventions to help those parents quit. This proposal, this law, is a waste of time."

Dr Glover said fining adults for smoking in cars with children would be counter-productive and negatively impact Māori women - of which 38 percent smoked.

She also said the impacts of second-hand smoke had been greatly exaggerated and that if children were in cars with smokers, it would not have a long-term negative effect on them and their bodies would heal from any short-term impacts.

Committee member Liz Craig said on that point she would have to agree to disagree with Dr Glover, while another member Matt Doocey said the claim was "outrageous".

Dr Glover confirmed the main point of her submission was that education and support for smokers was where government efforts should be focused.

The Bill proposes to have an 18-month campaign lead in to educate people about the new rules in the hope that when it kicked in, the actual number of people being fined would be minimal.

But Dr Glover said police should not be involved in this and should not have anything to do with regulating a public health issue.

"The assumption there is that there'll be a campaign and the police will pull people over and they'll give cessation advise. But it's not a therapeutic relationship ... if the police pull you over, for many people it's a very stressful situation. So they're not the right messenger.

"We need to make sure that these services are working with these vulnerable families who are not necessarily going to quit just because there's a campaign or because the police pull them over."

Public Health Association of New Zealand chief executive Prudence Stone said Dr Glover's submission was "strange" and questioned her motives.

"What a strange precedent that has been set this morning by the previous submitter. I would advise you from here on to clarify with every submitter whether or not they are receiving tobacco industry funding for their hearing scripts today and for their submissions written towards this legislation."

Ms Stone said the association supported the planned legislation.

"For children, the measure de-normalises smoking. It disrupts what they might have grown up thinking was normal. It enables their rights to protest from the back seat, and it enables law enforcers to intervene on their behalf if their own voice is disabled, too small, or just simply ignored."

She said the association wanted the legislation to including vaping as well, because the long-term effects of it were still unknown.

"It's not about turning children into a science experiment one generation at a time and while the evidence is out this government would be wise to take a precautionary approach."

The only point that the association agreed with Ms Glover on was that a harsh punitive approach was unlikely to be helpful.

The Cancer Society also threw its support behind the changes, saying quite simply - a child in a car with a smoker, is not a good thing.

It also confirmed it did not receive any funding from the tobacco industry.