As a child, I was not a good traveller. The mere scent of a car interior – possibly the plastic seats, maybe the closed atmosphere, probably the whiff of petrol – would be enough to bring on the tell-tale flow of odd saliva that heralded a really impressive bout of vomiting. If the smell of fag smoke had been added to the mix it would have happened even sooner. So when I say that the that Labour peers’ attempt today (supporters of the amendment include Tony Blair’s old friend, Charlie Faulkner) to introduce a ban on smoking in cars with children is bossy, oppressive and expressive of the demeanour of Yvette Cooper (who has, in fact, nothing to do with it), it’s not from any childish nostalgia for passive smoking so much as a sense of unease.
A car is an extension of private space. I mean, I don’t drive but when you get into someone’s car it’s like getting inside their living room. And I can’t think of anything I’d like less than telling people how to behave in their own home. As a matter of fact, most people are astonishingly forbearing about smoking when children are present – though my own, I may say, are fascinated by cigarettes – but that’s up to them. If the state tells a smoker that he is barred from smoking when there are children in the car, it’s an infringement of the liberty to do what he likes on his own premises. Which is rather a different matter than public space, no?
As it happens, I don’t care for really foul language in front of children, and I’m not above saying so on a train, but I should hesitate to legislate against people using bad words in private, in front of the young. It may be that children whose parents smoke in the car do make them sharers in their fags but once we accept the principle that this must be stopped, we’ll end up getting all Scandinavian about it, and banning them from smoking in their homes. Which would put some people off having children at all. There are some liberties that we really do infringe at our peril; telling people what to do in their own space is one of them.