A push to ban smoking in cars when children are present which started in Northland four years ago has finally culminated in a law change.
Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa announced on Sunday that the Government will ban smoking and vaping in cars carrying children under 18.
The law change is expected to come into effect by the end of the year via an amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990.
Under the change, 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 use their discretion to give warnings, refer people to stop-smoking support services, or issue a $50 fine.
Northland District Health Board smokefree co-ordinator Bridget Rowse said this decision "comes as a relief" to health professionals who have been advocating for legislative change for more than four years.
"Unfortunately Northland has a high number of kids exposed to smoking in cars so this long awaited announcement means our kids will no longer be exposed to second-hand and third-hand smoke, they will have less asthma and respiratory issues, less hospital admissions and the less our kids see smoking, the less likely they are to start smoking themselves."
She said in 2015, Patu Puauahui, the smokefree coalition in Northland presented a petition to the Government and presented to the Health Select Committee in 2016.
Rowse said the committee recommended that Government adopt smokefree cars legislation, however in 2017, the Government at the time "believed that present initiatives were sufficient to deter smoking in cars carrying children".
The National Smokefree Cars Working Group has been quietly advocating with Members of Parliament for reconsideration and working with communities ever since, she said.
Rowse said health officials were pleased to see vaping included in the ban.
"We acknowledge the potential for vaping products to help people who smoke to stop smoking. But we support both smokefree and vape-free cars. Vaping has far less health and social impacts than smoking but we want to create healthy, safe environments for all tamariki and whānau."
She said the Ministry of Health has stated that the evidence suggests emissions from vaping carry much less risk than those from smoking cigarettes. However, they are not likely to be risk-free.
Salesa said first and foremost the change is about protecting children. However, it is also part of the Government's commitment to achieving Smokefree 2025.
"The legislation will also be backed up with a new and innovative public education and social marketing effort.
"Ultimately, the focus of this change will be on education and changing social norms – not on issuing infringement notices."
A police spokesperson said as always, the police role was to uphold the law.
"Our officers have discretion around how they do this. Compliance can be achieved through effective education, referral, and engagement, as well as enforcement."
People in Whangārei spoken to by the Advocate yesterday were supportive of the ban.
Whangārei grandfather Warren Plaisted had three of his grandchildren with him and agreed with the ban.
He said he was not a smoker, and neither were any members of his grandchildren's family, so the ban wouldn't have any direct affect on them, but he could "definitely" see the overall health benefits of the ban.
Plaisted said it was "another step along the way" following rules to ban smoking in bars and pubs and other public places.
Whangārei woman Abby Tata said she was "all for it".
"Why would you want to do it? They're babies, why would you expose them to toxic chemicals? It's just stupid."
"They can get sick, in hospital. It's simple: they're our future."
She said she used to be a smoker, and had given up in March last year, but had never smoked around her two-year-old son Tauranga.
The ban was popular with overseas visitors to Whangārei. American Tim Hine said it was a "fantastic idea."
"They do what they see, if they see their parents or whoever smoking, then they'll do it too."
Sarah Spiers from the UK said it "makes sense". She had never been a smoker, either, but also agreed with it protecting the health of children.