By Rachael Mason
As an adult, you can carefully weigh the risks of smoking before you light a cigarette. You can also choose to expose yourself to secondhand smoke in public places. However, children typically have little to no control over their environment – thus the danger of exposing them to involuntary tobacco smoke is far greater.
If kids are riding in the car with a smoker, who is likely to be a parent or relative, they can’t just ask the person to stop smoking. If someone in the car is smoking, the kids will end up inhaling secondhand smoke.
Studies have shown that secondhand smoke, produced from cigarettes, cigars and pipes, is very unhealthy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke contains about 4,000 cancer causing chemicals.
For kids, whose lungs are still developing, exposure to secondhand smoke is even more risky. It can cause asthma in children who haven’t previously shown any symptoms of the lung disorder and lead to an increased risk of bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. Secondhand smoke has even been shown to an increased chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A 2006 report from the Surgeon General said that secondhand smoke can cause not only disease, but also death for children and nonsmoking adults.
Laws governing smoking, including while kids are in the car, vary from state to state. In Virginia, a bill that proposed to make the practice illegal when kids 15 and under are in the car passed in the Senate on Feb. 1, 2013.
The bill now goes to the state’s House of Delegates, where a subcommittee squashed a similar measure in January 2013, reported The Virginian-Pilot. In the house subcommittee, lawmakers had agreed that smoking with kids in the car seems like a bad idea and could even be considered poor parenting. However, because smoking is a legal activity, they didn’t want to impose restrictions on it.
Which states have prohibited smoking in cars while children are present?
In Arkansas, smoking is illegal in a car with kids younger than 14. The restriction became law in 2011, adding to a 2006 statute that prohibited smoking in cars with children under 6.
In 2006, Louisiana enacted a ban against smoking in the car with kids under the age of 13, as well as in vehicles that are used for transporting children for daycare. In 2007, the far-reaching Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect, prohibiting smoking in most public places, including schools and workplaces.
In California, the Smoke-Free Cars with Minors law has prohibited smoking in cars with kids age 17 and under since Jan. 1, 2008. Violators may be fined up to $100.
A Maine law, enacted in 2008, bans smoking in cars when children under age 16 are present, with a fine of $50 for violators.
In Texas, a law prohibits foster parents from smoking at home and while children are in the car. Pennsylvania has also banned foster parents from smoking at home and in their cars while their charges are present. They are among 18 states that have banned smoking in foster homes, according to the Smoke-Free Foster Care report.
Should smoking while kids are in the car be banned?
Being in the car with a smoker exposes passengers to high levels of toxins, even when the windows are cracked, according to a study by Stanford University. The air quality in a smoker’s car quickly degrades into a level the EPA considers unhealthy.
“Infants and children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” said Dr. Mark Horton, Director of the California Department of Public Health in a 2008 press release. “Smoking in a car, or any confined space, increases the level of pollution inhaled by children and adults, thereby increasing the likelihood of suffering from the negative health effects of secondhand smoke.”