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Under-staffing will prevent smoking ban being enforced

A Police Force should be left to focus on solving widespread under-staffing problems rather than having to enforce matters relating to public health, a staff association claims.

The Health Minister for Northern Ireland, Simon Hamilton, is trying to introduce legislation that will make it an offence to smoke in a vehicle in which under-18s are present.

A similar law was passed in England and Wales in October.

But the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) argues that policing the ban will be difficult in the current climate, as its officers are already over-stretched.

The PFNI told Police Professional: “We are already seriously under-staffed, and if officers are to have additional responsibility enforcing this new measure, there will be an inevitable impact on other duties.

“The law has to be upheld, but the issue becomes one of where and how that task is accomplished.”

The PFNI has pointed out that as things are, there is little possibility of acquiring the funding necessary to expand the service.

Many forces in the UK already face under-staffing, a fact not helped by cuts to police funding over the last five years. In Northern Ireland, plans were announced last September to cut more than £5.6 million from police overtime budgets.

Former PFNI Chair Terry Spence warned last year that from “ground and command level” everyone was struggling “to deliver a proper police service.”

He said at the time: “We are so desperate for more officers that if it’s a question of money then the time has come to reconsider the £140 million being spent on a training centre at Desertcreat to recruit a mere 168 officers.”

And by 2018/19 the force will face a £104 million funding gap, which will render the cost of recruiting new officers completely unaffordable.

Police opinion in England and Wales appears to favour the view of the PFNI. Derbyshire Constabulary Chief Constable Mick Creedon said that imposing the ban can “never be a priority” for officers.

“The few traffic officers I have will be concentrating on the causes of serious and fatal collisions, such as drink-driving, while my other staff are tackling child sexual exploitation and cybercrime,” he warned earlier this year.

In England and Wales, anyone found to be in breach of this law will be subjected to a fine of £50. However, the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s official policy is not to enforce these.

The PFNI said that it does appreciate the health issues behind the legislation. Its reservations are based only on the practicality of carrying out the proposed ban.

A study by the Northern Irish Chest, Heart and Stroke association found that 82 per cent of people polled were in favour of implementing a ban on smoking in cars.

However, opponents claim that the legislation invades people’s privacy and personal freedom.

Smokers’ group Forest claims that “the overwhelming majority of adult smokers self-regulate when it comes to smoking in cars with children”.

Another report from the Health and Safety Executive found that 15 per cent of adults smoke in their cars even if their children are present. These children can face serious health issues brought on by exposure to second hand smoke.

In an unventilated vehicle, passengers can be exposed to over 200 times the recommended safety level of the toxins found in cigarette smoke.

These children could face increased risks of asthma, meningitis and even cot death.

Children are particularly susceptible to these conditions as they breathe more quickly than adults and proportionally they inhale a higher volume of dangerous substances, the report said.

Scotland will decide next year whether or not it wants to enforce this ban. The Republic of Ireland has already approved the legislation, but as of yet is still to implement it.

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