Courtesy of CT-N
Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, co-chairs the task force (Courtesy of CT-N)

A bipartisan task force that’s examining the issue of smoking in vehicles with minors learned Tuesday that there’s no direct causality between secondhand smoke and asthma rates.

Dr. Michelle Cloutier, director of the Asthma Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, told the group that there’s a strong association between secondhand smoke and asthma, but no direct causality.

That’s not to say she doesn’t believe smoking is bad.

“I think all smoking is bad. All secondhand smoke is bad,” Cloutier said. “I just can’t say based on the data that it causes asthma in any group or that it causes asthma exasperations.”

She said the data supports an association, but not a causal relationship.

She said there are many factors that cause asthma, and the rate of asthma has increased over the past few decades, but it’s not related solely to secondhand smoke.

She said there are three theories about why the prevalence of asthma is increasing. The first is that “our microbial environment has been altered so much that our immune system is no longer challenged in an appropriate way.” The second is a lack of vitamin D because children are now inside more, and the third is acetaminophen use.

“All of those things correspond to the rapid rise in the last 30 years of asthma prevalence,” Cloutier said.

Cloutier is also a member of the 15-member task force.

The task force plans to hear from various experts over the next five weeks about the impact of secondhand smoke on children.

Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, who co-chairs the task force, has introduced legislation for several years in a row that would ban smoking in vehicles carrying young children. This past legislative session, it made it out of committee, but died on the calendar before being called for a vote in the House.

According to the Office of Legislative Research, seven states and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation banning smoking in vehicles with children present. The age of children covered by state legislation varies from under the age of 8 in Vermont to under the age of 18 in California and Oregon. The maximum fine for first-time offenders varies from $25 in Arkansas to $250 in Oregon and Puerto Rico.

Legislation to ban smoking in cars with children present was proposed in 12 states in 2015, including Connecticut.

Cloutier said exposure to secondhand smoke in a small space such as a motor vehicle is dangerous for children, but the greater risk is in the home because children spend more time in the home than traveling in a vehicle.

The task force is expected to make its recommendations to the legislature at its Jan. 5, 2016, meeting.