Council officials have expressed their fears over policing any future ban on smoking in cars with children.
And they feel that the responsibility should fall solely with the PSNI.
As an eight-week public consultation on the ban ended this week, councillors were tonight (Tuesday) being asked to rubberstamp a local response to central government.
And the Environmental Committee at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is being told, basically, that enforcing any future new law could become a nightmare and beyond its powers.
The draft regulations propose that the existing legislation, as set out in the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, will be extended, so that it will be an offence to: “smoke in a private vehicle with someone under 18 present; and
to fail to prevent smoking in a private vehicle with someone under 18 present”.
The introduction of smoke-free legislation in 2007 has been a significant public health initiative.
To date, this legislation has been implemented successfully, largely through self-regulation and public support with high levels of compliance with the legislation.
Smoke-free legislation also included regulations which made smoking in shared work vehicles an offence. This includes public transport such as buses, trains or taxis and any vehicle which is used for work purposes by more than one person, even if the workers use the vehicle at different times or intermittently.
Compliance with the work vehicles legislation remains an area of focus and presents enforcement difficulties to councils, whose role it is to enforce this legislation.
But now councillors are being briefed on the latest plans by the Department for Health, which are proposing to introduce legislation to protect children from being exposed to second-hand smoke whilst travelling in private vehicles.
The draft Smoke-free (Private Vehicles) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 provide that a vehicle is smoke-free if it is enclosed; there is more than one person present; and there is a person aged under 18 in the vehicle.
Council officials, in a report to councillors this evening, highlight: “These new draft regulations will have the effect of extending the existing offences of smoking in a vehicle and failing to prevent smoking in a vehicle to include a private vehicle when a person under the age of 18 is present.
“With respect to the offence of smoking in a smoke-free vehicle, it would be the person smoking who would be held liable.
“Enforcement authorities will have the option of issuing a £50 fixed penalty notice for offences in relation to smoking in a private vehicle in which children are present.
“Failure to pay a fixed penalty notice could result in the matter being referred to a court.”
The regulations propose a ‘dual enforcement’ approach between councils and the PSNI be adopted in relation to all smoke-free vehicles.
But this is where officials feel they may not be adequately placed to act.
The report adds: “There are concerns that the powers of council authorised officers are insufficient to deal with pursuit of these types of offences – council do not have appropriate powers to stop vehicles where an offence is suspected of being committed.
“In addition, there are significant difficulties already with securing evidence for the existing offences. The gathering of evidence is problematic e.g. how to detect if vapour in a moving or parked car is smoke or from another source such as an electronic cigarette.
“In dealing with smoking in work vehicles such as taxis, it has been difficult to secure successful prosecutions.
“Officers consider that enforcement of these regulations best sits with PSNI. Councils can have a role in more positive work to encourage adults not to smoke in vehicles where children are present though information and advice through health and well-being programmes.”
The Public Health Agency currently funds the enforcement of tobacco regulations by council, so it is not expected that any change would have financial implications for council.
Councillors will be asked to endorse the response this evening.