The Utah House and Senate passed a bill March 3 to prohibit smoking in vehicles when children age 15 and younger are passengers in hopes of protecting Utah’s children.
According to the HB13 bill summary, the worst place for children to be exposed to secondhand smoke is in a small, enclosed place such as a car. Research conducted at Harvard found “alarming” levels of pollution within the first five minutes of someone smoking in a car. It was also found that the concentration of secondhand smoke in a vehicle is 60 times greater than it was in a non-smoker’s home, and 27 times greater than it was in a smoker’s home.
Research in the bill summary shows that simply rolling the car windows down doesn’t do enough. The bill also states that having a child in a car with someone smoking is just as dangerous as having the kid smoke a filtered cigarette in a large open space. These statistics are what encouraged Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, to become the primary sponsor of this bill.
“It is important to protect our children from the very dangerous secondhand smoke. They can’t protect themselves,” Arent said.
She said children’s lungs are still developing in their youth, which makes secondhand smoke even more dangerous. Children inhale larger quantities of toxins because they breathe more rapidly. Passengers under the age of fifteen exposed to smoke in a car are two times more likely to develop asthma and much more likely to become addicted to nicotine themselves. Arent recognizes these as prevalent dangers that children are presented to unwillingly.
“It is so much more dangerous for a child than an adult. As adults, we can walk away from the situation; they don’t have that choice,” Arent said.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, chose to sponsor the bill because he knows from firsthand experience how negatively secondhand smoke can affect children. Osmond had a relative who smoked in his youth, and he remembers feeling uncomfortable when that relative smoked in his presence. For him it simply made sense to spare other children from that experience and the negative consequences that come with it.
“It was a pretty logical thing for us to protect the children’s life and liberty as a legislator,” Osmond said.
He explained the bill will make smoking inside a car a secondary offense. This means someone cannot get pulled over for smoking in a car with a person under 15 years old, but if they are pulled over for another offense they would be cited with a $45 fee. However, as part of the initiative to help end the smoking issue in Utah, the fee would be waived if the offender attends a smoking sensation class.
Osmond explained that Utah does not have a high population of people who smoke; however it is still an issue. Osmond said that the emergency rooms and hospitals are full of kids with asthma and secondhand smoke-related diseases. Osmond feels that even a small positive effect would make his efforts worth it.
“Even if this bill encourages 100 or 200 people to stop smoking around their kids this will be an enormous accomplishment,” Osmond said.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, opposed the bill, saying it is over restrictive on private property rights and, in the end, will not be as effective as sponsors hope.
“If a child is still in a home where there is smoking, and if smoking in a car is only a secondary offense and can’t really even be ticketed for the next year, it seems it is not really going to do much to protect lungs,” Henderson said.
Henderson said many of the opposers of the bill, including herself, feel passing this will be a slippery slope and will only lead to unreasonable restrictions.
“To me this bill wasn’t really about protecting children’s lungs. It was about setting a very dangerous precedent. It won’t end with smoking, as it opens the door for further restrictions of legal behavior on personal private property,” Henderson said.
Henderson said all parents make mistakes and present dangers to their children daily. She fears, with the start of the restriction, that lawmakers will feel inclined to outlaw more behaviors.
“There are things parents do all the time that are bad for children, like feeding them junk food or letting them play outside in the sun with no sunscreen. If we start here, then we will all be criminals,” Henderson said.
The communication specialist for Governor Herbert was reached, but he has made no official comment on the bill.
The bill is on its way to the governor to be signed.