Not a single person in Calderdale or West Yorkshire was fined in the first two years after it became illegal to smoke in cars carrying a child, a new analysis has found.
An investigation by the Courier also uncovered confusion among local authorities about just who is responsible for enforcing the legislation.
Critics say it is proof that the ban was both unnecessary and unenforceable, but advocates counter that it is proof of public support and changing attitudes.
Simon Clark, director of smokers’ group Forest, said: “The figures vindicate the argument that a ban on smoking in cars carrying children was unnecessary and would be impossible to enforce.
“The reality is that even before the ban very few adults were smoking in cars with children present. The overwhelming majority of smokers knew it was inconsiderate and had stopped doing it.”
The view that most families already avoided smoking in cars is shared by Public Health England, but it maintains the change in law was still needed.
Scott Crosby, who leads Public Health England’s work on smoking in the region, stressed that tobacco smoke seriously harms young lungs.
“The law sent a clear message to people that it is not acceptable to harm children in that way,” he said. “For health, the measure of success is the change to attitudes and behaviour, not the number of enforcement actions.”
Wakefield Council said this was a police power and it had no involvement in enforcing the legislation, while Leeds City Council said its parking services team was of the opinion that police would hold any data.
Yet police say they cannot issues fines in relation to this piece of Department for Health legislation.
Instead, officers can give a verbal warning or guidance, notify the relevant local authority or make a report to the courts if necessary.
West Yorkshire Police did have two records on its system of verbal guidance issued in Leeds district – one instance in 2015/16 and another in 2016/17.