The Utah Legislature has proposed a bill to change smoking laws in the state, which would put a ban on smoking inside a vehicle if a child 15-years-old or younger is present.
The Protection of Children Riding in Motor Vehicles bill, or HB 13, prohibits someone from smoking in a car when riding with minors, and violators must pay a $45 fine. Completing a smoking cessation program after receiving a citation would waive the fine. Law enforcement would be required to issue warnings until July 1st of next year, but after that date, citations can be issued as a secondary offense.
Second-hand smoke in cars
As primary sponsor of the bill, Utah State Representative Patrice Arent says the the worst place to smoke is inside a vehicle, considering that the confined space concentrates the second-hand smoke inhaled by non-smoking passengers.
“The second-hand smoke gets so dense so quickly, even with the windows rolled down,” Arent said. “In fact, if I had a child in my office right now and I put a filtered cigarette in their mouth — it would be less dangerous than if that child were in a car with that intense second-hand smoke.”
HB 13 passed the 2012 Interim Health and Human Service Committee with nine ‘yes’ votes and one vote against. The bill now moves up to the Senate for consideration.
In a 2011 statewide survey, 83 percent of Utahans said they would support a law to better protect children in a vehicle from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. HB 13 has garnered bipartisan support even among Utah Conservatives as the GOP gained a total of five new seats in both Houses during the 2012 elections.
“This is not a Democrat-Republican issue,” Democrat Rep. Arent said. “This is a child health issue.”
Arent’s Senate sponsor of the bill, Aaron Osmond, is a Conservative Republican.
Tobacco smoke affects everyone
Long-time Provo resident Chris Watson says smokers are not aware of the impact they have on others, like infants and small children.
“I think a lot of smokers are ignorant to how they affect other people,” Watson said. “If you’re walking past someone smoking, the smoke gets right in your face and they don’t think anything of it.”
Chris wants to see even steeper punishments for adults that subject small children to the over 250 cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
“It should be the same punishment as child abuse — it should be more harsh,” Watson said. “You wouldn’t put your child in a car and not buckle them up. I think it’s child abuse to smoke with your kid in the car.”
Rep. Arent mentions the other places in Utah where smoking is prohibited — places like home daycare centers, restaurants, public buildings and transportation systems. She also says this bill is not telling people they are not allowed to smoke.
“We’re not saying you can’t smoke,” Arent said. “We’re saying you can’t force that smoke onto someone else who is not legal to smoke.”
Orem resident and 33-year-old Jed Coomes started smoking at the age of 14, and said he believes it’s largely due to his father smoking inside the home when Jed and his sister were growing up. Now with his own family, Jed says the government should step in if adults aren’t right-minded enough to consider other passengers.
“I have four children myself,” Coomes said, “and I don’t think anyone under the age of 18 should be exposed to cigarette smoke.”
Similar legislation has been proposed in the past, but none have passed both the House and the Senate. One version of the bill failed due to its late entry to the legislative session, Arent said. In 2011, the House passed a different version of the bill near the end of session, and the Senate could not review the bill in time to vote.
“We got it to a committee earlier in the House this year so it has time to get through the Senate,” Arent said, “and that makes a big difference.”