LANDMARK proposals to ban smoking in Wales in private vehicles that are carrying children will be a UK 'first' and are being hailed as a vital step in reducing harm caused by tobacco.

Consultation on the plan to ban smoking in private vehicles when children are present will begin shortly, and comes in the wake of new research.

Published yesterday, the research - carried out for the Welsh Government, and based on interviews with 1,600 children from 75 schools - indicated that children's exposure to smoking by adults in cars had halved, from 18 per cent to nine per cent, since 2008.

But First Minister Carwyn Jones, while welcoming that reduction, signalled the Welsh Government's determination to press ahead with legislation.

“A sizeable minority of young people are still being exposed and adults continue to smoke in their cars when children are present," said Mr Jones.

“There is also evidence from the primary school survey that inequalities in children’s exposure to second-hand smoke remains, so we will press ahead.”

Two years ago, the Fresh Start Wales campaign was launched to promote smoke-free cars carrying children and to raise awareness to parents and others of the risk their smoking poses to the health of children.

It was stressed then that a decision on whether or not to purse legislation would be made in summer 2014 and now ministers are acting.

Anti-smoking group ASH Wales welcomed the proposal.

"Concentrations of tobacco smoke inside a car can reach dangerous levels very quickly," said chief executive Elen De Lacy.

"We welcome the findings that children’s exposure to second-hand smoke has reduced but there is more to be done. The time has come for a ban.”

John Mathias, national director of Asthma UK Cymru, said: "We fully support calls on parents and carers not to smoke in cars, particularly in the presence of children, as second-hand smoke has been proven to be harmful to children, causing asthma and triggering attacks."

The British Medical Association's Welsh Secretary Dr Richard Lewis called the proposal "an important step forward in reducing tobacco harm by stopping children from being exposed to second-hand smoke in private vehicles.

"Children are still developing physically and, as a result, they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

"Adults who smoke in the presence of children are not acting in the children’s best interest. Therefore it is the Welsh Government’s duty to change legislation in order to protect them."

The smokers' group Forest however, criticised theWelsh Government, its director Simon Clark calling a ban "excessive and unnecessary" and legislation that will be "impossible to enforce."