(Updated 2:19 p.m.) Lawmakers may be considering re-introducing a bill next year that would ban smoking in a vehicle in the presence of a child.
Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, recently asked the Office of Legislative Research for a description of laws in other states banning smoking in vehicles when children are present.
According to the Office of Legislative Research report released on Dec. 18, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have each enacted similar legislation.
The maximum age of children covered varies from 13 to 18 and fines range from $25 in Arkansas to a maximum of $250 in Puerto Rico.
An advocacy group called Global Advisors for Smokefree Policy reported that legislation banning smoking in cars with children has been proposed in 21 states and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that six states and the District of Columbia restrict smoking in vehicles carrying children in the care of childcare facilities.
The last time the bill was introduced in Connecticut was back in 2008. Four years ago, the bill had three Democratic and one Republican co-sponsor. It passed two committees to make it to the state Senate. The Senate sent it back to the Transportation Committee, which never raised the bill before the 2008 session adjourned.
The 2008 bill would have created a civil fine between $84 and $146 if a motorist smoked in the presence of a child under the age of seven or weighing less than 60 pounds. In Connecticut, any child weighing less than 60 pounds already has to be in a car seat when a vehicle is in motion.
No one testified against the 2008 legislation, so it’s unclear exactly why the legislation was defeated.
A 2010 report by the Public Health Law Center said the primary political challenge the bill faced in several states was “the need to educate fellow legislators about the severity of the health risks to children from exposure to tobacco smoke toxins in vehicles.”
“Sponsors found that their fellow legislators had misconceptions about this issue. Not surprisingly, some legislators in all four states initially viewed these legislative proposals as unnecessary governmental interference,” says a report titled “Kids, Cars, and Cigarettes: Public Policy Options For Smoke-Free Vehicles.”
But the detrimental impact of second-hand smoke is overwhelming. In 2003, Connecticut restaurants went smoke free and all bars followed in 2004. The two tribal casinos have yet to ban smoking, but now have designated smoking areas.
A 2011 research paper published in Tobacco Control on children’s potential exposure to second-hand smoke in cars examined smoking levels during a number of car trips averaging about 27 minutes long, according to the OLR report. Researchers found that the concentration of smoke particles where smoking took place greatly exceeded international indoor air quality standards even when the windows were open.
Genga was a freshman in 2008 when he introduced the bill at the request of a 10-year-old constituent.
In a phone interview Thursday, he said there’s enough scientific evidence to show how bad secondhand smoke can be on children that he considers it a “no-brainer.”
The legislation Genga plans to introduce would only apply to drivers pulled over for another reason. In other words, it’s a secondary offense.
In Maine, drivers were issued warnings during the first year and it changed behavior so quickly that hardly any tickets are handed out, Genga said.
He said his legislation would also include a warning the first time a driver is caught, and a ticket the second time.
Genga said he’s been assured the Transportation Committee has agreed to hear the bill this year.