Smoking will be banned in cars when children under 18 are present minister, Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa has announced.

Vaping will also be included in the prohibition and it will apply to all vehicles both parked and on the move.

"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," Salesa said.

She expected the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to be changed by the end of this year.

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Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa made the smoking announcement at the Weet-Bix Kids Tryathalon. Photo / Supplied
Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa made the smoking announcement at the Weet-Bix Kids Tryathalon. Photo / Supplied

Once changed, police will be able to require people to stop smoking in their cars if children (under 18) are present.

They will also be able to use their discretion to give warnings, refer people to stop-smoking support services, or issue an infringement fee of $50.

According to research by ASH in 2014, 100,000 children a week are exposed to second-hand smoke.

The law change will come into effect by an amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990.

"First and foremost, this change is about protecting children. However, it is also part of the Government's commitment to achieving Smokefree 2025," Salesa said.

"Too many New Zealand children, particularly Māori and Pacific children, are exposed to second-hand smoke in the vehicles they usually travel in," she said.

"Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke due to their smaller lungs, higher respiratory rate and immature immune systems.

"Second-hand smoke accumulates in vehicles, even with the windows open. It reaches much higher levels than in homes."

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"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.

There is likely to be strong support for the move; several surveys show around 90 per cent support to ban smoking in cars with children present.

Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, parts of the United States, and most of Canada already have such bans.

Salesa made the announcement at the Weet-Bix Kids Tryathalon in Pt England, Auckland, alongside Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft and the Ministry of Health's, director-general, Ashley Bloomfield.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft is calling on the Opposition to support the move. Photo / Supplied
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft is calling on the Opposition to support the move. Photo / Supplied

Becroft welcomed the move, citing wide health benefits.

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

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

It would help reduce middle ear infections, cancer, sudden death in infancy, asthma and respiratory illnesses.

He also called on the Opposition to support 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."

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) programme manager Boyd Broughton said while the ban was a good move, its effectiveness would depend on how it was implemented.

"If it can help people reconsider smoking around young people, and be a trigger for even stopping smoking altogether, it is ultimately a good thing.

"But there needs to be good support structures and a strong public campaign around it with a lead in time, otherwise it could have more harm on our high smoking community, who are predominantly lower socioeconomic, Māori and Pacific Islanders."

Many in that demographic could miss the announcement, and simply fining them would not have the desired effect of reducing smoking harm.

"We want to decrease harm, rather than simply fine people. So police need to be able to offer support to help people stop smoking, rather than giving instant fines."