Heather Abdullah and Aden Abbatemarco of Mansfield told the Transportation Committee on Wednesday that if they were lawmakers for a day, they would approve legislation to ban smoking in vehicles carrying children.
Abdullah and Abbatemarco, two eighth-graders, were allowed to skip school to come to the state Capitol and testify in favor of Rep. Henry Genga’s bill to ban smoking in vehicles with children.
“It would prevent fatal injury to the lungs and body, as well as greatly increase road safety,” Abdullah said. “It would set a better example for younger generations.”
She said reports have found that secondhand smoke causes children to get sick more often with asthma and other preventable health conditions.
It would also improve the driving conditions on the road because there are reports that people who smoke while driving are even more distracted than those using cellphones, Abdullah told the committee.
“Cigarette smokers average 12 seconds of distraction, equal to traveling 525 feet without looking at the road, while cellphone users average 10.6 seconds of distraction traveling 492 feet without looking at the road,” Abdullah said.
Abbatemarco said she researched the issue because her grandmother was a smoker and had to walk around with an oxygen tank. Both girls entered Rep. Gregory Haddad’s essay contest about what they would change if they could be lawmakers for a day.
Abdullah said they learned about the dangers of secondhand smoke in science class and while she has no personal experience with it, she doesn’t think it’s fair that children have no choice about it.
Genga’s bill, which a lobbyist for the tobacco industry said he won’t oppose since the Tobacco Master Settlement agreement considers it a “youth access issue,” would only apply to individuals who are pulled over for another reason. In other words, it’s a secondary offense and could not be the sole cause for pulling over a driver.
The legislation would allow police to issue a warning for the first offense. The second time it would be a simple fine, but since it’s not a moving violation no points would be taken off the license.
In Maine, drivers were issued warnings during the first year a similar law was implemented and it changed behavior so quickly that hardly any tickets are handed out, Genga said.
Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, applauded the girls for coming to testify on the issue and let them know that they are influencing behavior just by testifying today.
“As you likely know, parents wear seatbelts more frequently when their children remind them of it,” Lemar said. “Parents tend to recycle more when their children remind them of the importance and environmental benefits of it. Myself, I tend to eat better when my child reminds me I should give up the soda and maybe not eat so many cookies.”
He said their testimony was more powerful than if another lawmaker had testified on the bill.
An Office of Legislative Research report says that Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have enacted similar legislation. The maximum age of children covered varies from 13 to 18 years old and fines range from $25 in Arkansas to a maximum of $250 in Puerto Rico.
Genga’s bill doesn’t spell out the amount of a fine, but a similar bill in 2008 proposed setting a fine at between $84 and $146. The bill only would apply to motorists driving with children under the age of six or those weighing less than 60 pounds.