Smoking in Cars with Children Called Child Abuse
By Aaron Crowe
For nonsmokers driving with a smoker, slightly cracking open a window to let the smoke out isn’t enough to prevent them from breathing secondhand smoke, according to nonsmoker advocates. It certainly isn’t enough to protect children, they say.
In an effort to protect children from secondhand smoke, the city of Tempe, Ariz., is considering fining drivers who smoke with a child in the vehicle. Police wouldn’t be allowed to stop someone solely for smoking, but if a driver is pulled over for another reason, such as speeding, then they could be cited if they’re smoking and a child is in the car.
If the proposal becomes law, it would be the first in Arizona. Seven states have laws that prohibit smoking with kids in cars: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, along with Puerto Rico. Cities and counties in five other states also have similar laws. Nevada, Illinois and Connecticut are considering similar legislation.
Some laws apply to children under age 8, while others are for smoking in a car with anyone younger than 18. Oregon has some of the stiffest penalties, with a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for others.
Smoking in a car exposes people “to toxic air that is many times higher than what the EPA considers hazardous air quality, even when a window is down,” according to the group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. The U.S. Surgeon General says there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Banning smoking with children in cars is a “no-brainer,” says Dr. Mary Ann Block, a doctor in Hurst, Texas.
“Smoking in a car where a child is present is child abuse,” Block says. “The dangers of side stream smoke are well known, causing the same serious and life threatening health issues that first line smoking cause,” including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“An innocent child has no control over this exposure unless someone steps in and makes it illegal,” she says.
VJ Slight, a former smoker and author of “How to Win at Quitting Smoking,” agrees that smoking in a car with children equates to child abuse, but says the secondhand smoke exhaled by the smoker isn’t the main problem, it’s the side-stream smoke that comes off the tip of the cigarette.
“The smoke is formed at a lower temperature, which causes more cancer-causing chemicals to be created versus the smoke that is inhaled by the smoker,” Sleight says.
When the smoker inhales, the smoke is taken in at a higher temperature because oxygen is being pulled through it and it’s then filtered by the cigarette filter and the smoker’s body, she says.
“Children are more affected by smoke because they are still developing,” Sleight says. “Children exposed to side-stream smoke are more prone to ear and respiratory infections including pneumonia and bronchitis, wheezing and coughing, (which) triggers asthma attacks, and for infants they can be at risk for sudden infant death syndrome.”
A Bigger Goal
The bigger issue with these bans and proposed laws is that they’re meant to drive smokers underground more while giving them fewer places to legally smoke, ultimately leading to preventing people from smoking in their homes, says Theodore King, the Oklahoma state coordinator for the Citizens Freedom Alliance, a smokers’ rights group.
“It’s tyranny,” says King, author of “The War on Smokers and The Rise of The Nanny State.”
“If they want to pull you over with your kid in your car, they will safely assume that the kid is in your house and that you probably smoke in your house,” he says.
One of the ultimate goals behind these laws is to collect a smoker’s name and address, and later send a representative from Child Protective Services to the home and determine that the home isn’t safe for the child to live in, King says.
“Basically, it’s trying to get into your house,” he says.
Smokers have fewer and fewer places where they can smoke legally, King says. Public parks, beaches, courthouses, and outside patios at bars and restaurants ban smoking in some cities. The University of Kentucky bans smoking on its campus.
Even in Arizona, where a hot summer day can cause a smoking driver to blast the air conditioning and not roll down a window, secondhand smoke is something that King, 46, and others lived with as children, he says.
“This thing is not the monster that people make it out to be,” King says.
Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.