Politics & Government

Stumbo's bill would target smokers in cars with children

House Speaker Greg Stumbo presided on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011 on the opening day of the legislative session at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
House Speaker Greg Stumbo presided on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011 on the opening day of the legislative session at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Photo by David Perry | Staff

Smoking in a vehicle where a child under 17 is present would be illegal under a bill filed by House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

A person in a vehicle with a child could not smoke "cigars, cigarettes or other tobacco in any form" under House Bill 216.

The legislation, which is similar to laws in four other states, would create a fine of $25 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. If the law is passed, there would be a probationary period until January 1, 2012. During that time, courtesy warnings would be issued instead of tickets.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he filed the measure after discussing the issue with his wife, Mary Karen.

"We were in a parking lot recently and noticed that the parents of young children got into their vehicle while continuing to smoke," Stumbo said. "It was a cold day, and they had no intention of lowering the windows. She and I couldn't believe it."

Stumbo said his wife told him that "'if we require children to be in proper car seats, and we require seat belts for all occupants, we should also require that those children be protected from secondhand smoke. They have no choice but to be in that vehicle.' I agree with her, and that's why I filed this legislation."

Opponents of the bill said it's another example of needless government intrusion.

"If you allow the state to dictate smoking inside of your own private vehicle no matter who the occupants are, you've just opened the door to government intrusion in every single aspect of your life," said state Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown.

Terry Brooks, executive director of the Louisville-based Kentucky Youth Advocates, said he anticipated such opposition.

"There will — inevitably — be those who criticize this proposal, citing personal rights," Brooks said. "Well, children have personal rights, too. And one of those rights needs to be the assurance that they not be intentionally put in harm's way."

Louisiana, Arkansas, Maine and Oregon have passed similar legislation, said Amy Barkley of Louisville, a regional director for the Washington D.C. advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The group's Web site says that 363,000 Kentucky children are exposed to second-hand smoke at home.

"The research is clear," Brooks said. "The harms associated with exposure to secondhand smoke — particularly in enclosed environments such as a car — is especially profound for children. The evidence also confirms that children's exposure to particle matter is alarming even if it's a five-minute drive."

Brooks said there is a strong link to secondhand smoke and ear infections and pneumonia for kids and that, in the longer term, children exposed to secondhand smoke are far more likely to be asthmatic.

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