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The Law and Smoking in Vehicles

If kids are in a vehicle, smoking & vaping is now prohibited. 

The Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Act was passed in May 2020 and comes into force on 28 November 2021. This will prohibit smoking and vaping in motor vehicles carrying children and young people under 18 years of age.

This ban finally protects children who otherwise were unable to remove themselves from harmful second hand tobacco smoke of which there is NO safe level of exposure. (According to US Surgeon General 2006.)

New Zealand was also falling behind international best practice on protecting children from harm and it was internationally imperative that we joined the global initiative to reduce the harm caused by second hand smoke. Many other countries have had this ban in place for some years. 

That, and our national statistics were also a bit grim.

  • According to ASH in 2014, 100,000 children a week were exposed to second hand smoke. 
  • Evidence from Otago University in Wellington in 2017 showed that 1 in 5 children were exposed to second hand smoking in cars despite the number of actual smokers declining.

In case you’re wondering why? 

It’s known that children exposed to a proven, completely avoidable health hazard is unacceptable.

Smoking in cars results in concentrations of toxins much higher than are normally found elsewhere  up to 11 times higher than you used to find in the average smoke filled pub.

Children are at risk because they have smaller airways and breathe faster than adults (in the same amount of time.) They’re more likely to develop chest infections and breathing problems like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, coughing and wheezing and even ear infections when exposed to second hand tobacco smoke. Babies exposed to second hand smoke have an increased risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). 

https://www.smokefree.org.nz/drivesmokefreefortamariki campaign has a lot more information and is a Ministry of Health, Health Promotion Agency campaign with great shareable resources. The objective of the campaign is to raise awareness of the new law, especially for people who smoke, and to encourage smokers to change their behaviours of smoking around children. It's also contributing to the goal for a Smokefree 2025, as well as the Child and Youth Wellbeing strategy, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It makes sense that the rights of an adult who smokes now doesn’t outweigh the rights of a child to breathe clean air that won’t make them sick. 

While statistics from the 2018 Health Lifestyle Survey show that 95% of us are supportive of the ban, be prepared for the views of the outraged 10% that may say:

“Surely the police have better things to do with their time” 
“This law infringes on the civil liberties of smokers.”
 “This ban will lead to bans in all cars, in homes and then everywhere.”

Here’s a helpful link to squish those possible arguments and myths. 

The bottom line is this. When it’s a health issue and a road safety issue, the NZ Government has a responsibility to protect the public, the same as they already do with child restraint car seats, cell phones, seat belts, regos and warrants. We have seen compliance and positive behavioural change happen, particularly around smoking laws before. The great thing is, it generally becomes self-enforcing.

As with any law change, my advice is to:

  1. Have ACCEPTANCE & ADAPT because it’s being done for a valid reason.
  2. Make a PLAN of how to change, in advance.
  3. Put your plan into ACTION.
  4. Get SUPPORT if you need some extra help. Our Facebook private page is a good source of available support. It’s private and easy to join, https://www.facebook.com/groups/quitnow.nzsupportgroup

Why vaping as well?

Well if you’re impacting anyone else’s air, it’s best not to, so don’t vape around them. Some can find it a nuisance, others dislike the smell and it’s something they can’t control, but you can. 

Like eating, texting, and smoking, vaping can divert your focus and require you to take your eyes off the road and at least one hand off of the steering wheel. If there are clouds of vapour, it can obstruct vision.

Why might it be hard to not smoke or vape while driving?

Some people have had the habit for years and automatically associate one with other. Driving is one of the many pattern triggers which can set off an urge to smoke. Add children to the mix, along with traffic jams, throw in increased traffic, road works and other drivers, and driving can become a much more stressful situation. Because stress is a big emotional trigger, smokers have a tendency to want to reach for a cigarette for stress relief. 

This article in Stuff NZ in which I’m quoted explains a bit more why drivers will need more support.

15 Helpful Smoke & Vape Free Car Coping Tips.

  1. Count to ten slowly.
  2. Take several nice deep breaths.
  3. Keep a water bottle handy.
  4. Have mints or gum on hand.
  5. For those who usually choose to vape, have lollipops or lollies the same flavour as your e-liquid.
  6. Go for fast acting distraction like playing games. 
  7. Enlist calming techniques, like playing music and singing.
  8. Try listening to a new radio station or a podcast.
  9. Change your car environment by clearing all smoking items out including the inbuilt lighter.
  10. Leave a cell phone charger or other device plugged into the car’s adapter outlet so you never use it as a lighter again.
  11. Put devices out of reach, just like you do with your phone.
  12. Fill your car’s ashtray with spare change so you’re not tempted to fill it with ash.
  13. Consider putting a sticker on your car that reminds passengers that it’s a smokefree vehicle.
  14. Most importantly plan for breaks if it’s a long trip, and get out and stretch and do what you need to out in the open air.
  15. Perhaps use some of the travel time to have some connected, silly time with your child/children. In doing so, you might even stumble upon some meaningful responses and ideas. My child loved these crazy questions:
  • Who was the strangest person you laid eyes on today?
  • What was the scariest situation you encountered?
  • What was the grossest thing that happened today?
  • What was the yummiest thing you ate or saw today?
  • Who annoyed you the most today?
  • What delighted you the most today?
  • What was the loveliest thing you saw today?
  • What was the stinkiest thing you smelt today?
  • What’s the weirdest thing you heard or saw today?
  • What was the most embarrassing thing that happened today?
  • What superpower did you wish you had today?
  • What was the craziest thought you had today?

So in summary, let’s celebrate this new legislation that protects our precious children from second hand smoke in inescapable situations. And let’s face it, all kids and their little lungs are worth it. 

Let’s be kind and remember that smokers need a strength based, positive message of what to do, not a shaming message about their dependence.

 “We all love our children, so think about them and get out of your car if you need to smoke.”

If you need a little extra bit of help to not smoke or vape in the car, (or you want to quit with support) register online at quitnow.nz and join our socials and you’ll have free easy access to counselling advice which is great for making behavioural changes, problem solving and working out coping strategies.


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