A law change is set to prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children under 18 by the end of the year.
The law change will come into effect by an amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990, Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa revealed in a statement released this morning.
"First and foremost this change is about protecting children," she said. "However, it is also part of the Government’s commitment to achieving Smokefree 2025.
"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 harmful effects of second-hand smoke because of their smaller lungs, higher respiratory rate and immature immune systems, Ms Salesa said.
"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."
Under the change, police will be able to stop people smoking in their cars if children under 18-years-old are present. Police will be able to use their discretion to give warnings, refer people to stop-smoking support services or issue an infringement fee of $50.
However, Ms Salesa said, "The focus of this change will be on education and changing social norms – not on issuing infringement notices.
"In 2016, recommendations by the Health Select Committee to ban smoking in cars carrying children were ignored. Now, this Government is taking action. Second-hand smoke accumulates in vehicles, even with the windows open. It reaches much higher levels than in homes."
Surveys showed about 90 per cent of people support a stop to smoking in cars with children present.
New Zealand will join other countries including Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, parts of the United States and most of Canada – where smoking in cars with children is already prohibited.
New Zealand First spokesperson for health Jenny Marcroft said more than 100 New Zealanders die from second-hand smoke each year.
"This is a sensible measure that protects children who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke exposure, and often have no choice in the matter," Ms Marcroft said. "No longer will children be choking on second-hand smoke in cars."
Vaping will also be included in the prohibition and it will apply to all vehicles both parked and on the move.
It is expected that this amendment will become law by the end of this year.