A BAN on smoking in cars when children are passengers moved a big step closer today, when David Cameron pledged to examine the idea.

The prime minister surprised MPs by agreeing to “look carefully” at the proposal along with other possible measures to further curb smoking in public places.

A day earlier, Anna Soubry, the health minister, threw her weight behind the plan, telling a conference: “I would ban smoking in cars where children are present.”

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Any ban would represent an extraordinary victory for Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, who has led a two-year campaign for the move.

Mr Cunningham introduced his own private member’s Bill, warning that 300,000 UK children are taken to their GP with smoking-related illnesses every year.

One cigarette in the car - even with the window open - creates a greater concentration of second-hand smoke than a whole evening's smoke in a pub used to, research had found.

Yet, back in 2011, Mr Cameron dismissed Mr Cunningham’s plea for action, saying he was “very nervous about going into what people do inside their car”.

The Stockton North MP hailed the apparent U-turn, saying: “First the health minister confirmed what she has said privately, that she is in favour of a ban.

“Now the prime minister has said it will be looked at, which is shift from what he said to me a couple of years ago – when he gave me a flat no.

“Time will tell whether they are willing to match words with deeds, but the statistics speak for themselves.

“Thousands of children, each year, are forced to breathe second hand smoke in a confined space, with the obvious damage to health – and 86 per cent of children think there should be a ban.”

The issue arose at prime minister’s questions, when Gateshead MP Ian Mearns urged Mr Cameron to back Mr Cunningham’s Bill as a “significant step further” in protecting children.

In reply, he said: “I think we should look carefully at what he, and others, have said.

“We are looking across the piece at all the issues – at whether we should follow the Australians with the ban on packaging, what more we can do on restricting smoking in public places.

“We have to look at each one and work out whether there is a real public health benefit but I think he makes a good point.”

Later, the prime minister’s spokesman confirmed to Westminster journalists that the issue of second-hand smoke in cars would be examined.

Coincidentally, Mr Cunningham’s Bill is almost certain to be killed off tomorrow (FRI), because of a lack of parliamentary time.

However, its supporters are likely to seek an opportunity to tag the measure to other legislation – and see whether the government will back it.

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