Senate votes to ban smoking in cars with kids
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The Maryland Senate last week passed a bill that would prohibit drivers and passengers in vehicles from smoking when a child younger than 8 is present.
The Senate passed the bill 27-20, the second year in a row the chamber has voted to support it, giving Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery) a chance to see her bill go into law after seven years of trying.
The bill now heads to the House of Delegates for consideration.
“Although it’s obviously a personal choice for an adult to smoke, the 2-year-old in the baby seat in the back doesn’t really have much of a choice,” said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the bill with Forehand.
The bill would make smoking in a car or other vehicle with a child subject to a $50 penalty.
Children 7 and younger already are required to be in a car seat. The presence of a car seat will signal the child’s age to a law enforcement officer, and an adult smoking in the vehicle can be pulled over and fined.
There is an exception in the bill for mobile homes.
Forehand has long been known as a champion of anti-smoking in the General Assembly, starting in 1979 when she came to the House of Delegates, hid the ashtrays in the Appropriations Committee lounge, she said, and started the conversation that led to the smoking ban in the House chambers.
“People thought I was crazy, but I laughed right along with them,” Forehand said.
She started pushing for the bill, she said, because of her father, who died of lung cancer and emphysema in his late 60s, even though he never smoked.
“But he worked in one of those offices, back then, when everybody around him was smoking,” Forehand said.
Watching him die was a very difficult experience, she said, because he had to struggle so hard to breathe.
“If I could prevent that from happening to one more person, I would,” Forehand said.
But opponents of the bill question whether the state is overstepping its bounds by banning smoking in a private vehicle.
“Every year, every other year we have another major smoking bill … each one narrowing down the ability of smokers to exert their public influence,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Upper Shore).
He argued that a private vehicle should not be subject to anti-smoking laws the same as in other public places, such as bars and restaurants.
The bill is needed, Forehand said, because being around secondhand smoke can have a longer-lasting effect on children than on adults, similar to asthma.
Others in the Senate agreed with the intent of the bill but wondered if the result could be accomplished another way.
Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore) acknowledged that smoking in a closed space, such as a car, with a child is dangerous, but she said she would prefer another way of stopping it.
“I wish we would spend as much energy as we spent passing this bill getting that message out,” Klausmeier said, noting that she worried that few people would hear about the new law before it is slated to go into effect. “I would have preferred advertisement and education over this bill.”