Smoking cigarettes in a vehicle is more damaging to your health than breathing in exhaust fumes, a leading doctor has claimed.
British Medical Association (BMA) public health expert Douglas Noble made the shock claim as his colleagues called for tougher tobacco and alcohol controls.
BMA members voted in favour of a ban on smoking while driving, more restrictions on licensing hours and introducing a minimum price of alcohol.
The union hopes to use its influential position to persuade the UK Government and its counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to tighten up its licensing legislation.
Those against stricter regulations say it would intrude upon people’s liberty – and labelled a ban on smoking while driving as being “unenforceable”.
But supporters insist the measures, if implemented, would improve the nation’s health as well as saving the NHS money.
London-based Dr Noble said: “In cars, particle concentrations are 27 times higher than in a smoker’s home and 20 times higher than in a pub, in the days when you could smoke in public places.
“It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car than smoke cigarettes in terms of fine particular matter released.
“A ban would protect pregnant women and children.”
The British Lung Foundation said it was delighted by the BMA’s stance.
The charity’s director of communications Miranda Watson said: “Doctors are on the front-line when it comes to dealing with the impact of passive smoking on children.
“We’re thrilled the BMA is supporting our campaign to end smoking in cars carrying children. With doctors backing our campaign, the Government can’t afford to stall.”
Pro-smoking lobbyists Forest labelled the BMA’s move as another attack on smokers and freedom of choice.
Director Simon Clark said: “An outright ban on smoking in cars would be a gross intrusion of the state on people’s private lives.
“If such legislation was put in place then I fear it would be a step towards trying to implement a ban on smoking in the home.
“People should have the right to choose.”