Intervention: Health experts come out all guns blazing for car smoking ban

The health lobby moved onto the front foot in the battle to ban smoking in cars with children today, with over 500 health professionals demanding MPs pass the legislation.

Ahead of a free Commons vote on the issue next week, 500 respiratory health professionals wrote an open letter to the British Medical Journal pushing them to "protect the wellbeing" of children.

"This powerful intervention from doctors and health professionals underlines the compelling case for protecting children from smoking in cars," Labour shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said.

"Just as seat belt laws and the smoking ban have helped change behaviour in the past, outlawing smoking in cars with children would send a powerful signal and improve public health.

"Next week parliament has an opportunity to unite behind a proposal that will tangibly improve the lives of children all over the UK. I hope MPs of all parties will seize that chance on Monday."

The letter writers insist that a ban on smoking in the car with children would not set any more of a legal precedent than enforcing the wearing of seat belts or banning the use of mobile phones behind the wheel.

They also dismissed arguments that the legislation impinges on people's freedom to do as they wish in their own property, saying that objectors "seem to value this more highly than the children’s right to breathe clean air".

They added that there is "a strong consensus that children need to be protected from unnecessary hazards, that exposing children to tobacco smoke is unacceptable, and that removing this exposure is effective".

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that each year in the UK smoking in the car with children is responsible for 300,000 primary care contacts, 9500 hospital admissions, at least 200 cases of bacterial meningitis and 40 sudden infant deaths.

Critics of the move have raised questions about the veracity of statistics.

Labour MPs are likely to overwhelmingly support a ban and will be joined by many Tory MPs, although a hardcore libertarian rump of the Conservative party will vote against the move.

Liberal Democrats are harder to predict. While party leader Nick Clegg has stressed his opposition to the ban, some of his MP are likely to support it.