States Adopt Legislation Prohibiting Smoking in Cars with Children

June 22, 2017|12:37 p.m.| KT Kramer

Exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful to all individuals, and it poses particular risks for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that exposure to second-hand smoke “harms children from conception forward” causing a variety of health impacts ranging from sudden infant death, more severe asthma, pneumonia, other respiratory illnesses, and cancer.

One approach states are taking to protect children from environmental tobacco exposure is prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present. In 2006, Arkansas and Louisiana became the first states to enact such bans. Initially, Arkansas law prohibited smoking in a car with any passenger under the age of six, but the law was amended in 2011, to increase the age to 14. The maximum fine is $25, but the fine for the first offense can be waived if the individual enters a smoking cessation program. In Louisiana, smoking is prohibited in any vehicle when there is a child under the age of 13, and penalties are $150 fines or 24-hours of community service. In 2007, Puerto Rico enacted legislation banning smoking in cars with passengers under 13 with fines ranging from $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Other recent state legislation includes:

  • In California, the use of tobacco products, which was amended in 2016 to include electronic cigarettes, is prohibited in cars when people under 18 are present. The penalty is $100 for each violation.
  • In Maine, smoking is prohibited in cars when people under 16 are present, and the penalty is $50.
  • In 2013, Utah banned smoking in cars with passengers under 15. The law does provide an exception that allows smoking with children present in certain open-air vehicles, such as convertibles. The penalty is $45, but this can be waived if it’s a first offense or if the individual demonstrates that he or she has enrolled in a smoking cessation program.
  • In Oregon, “smoking, aerosolizing, or vaporizing” are prohibited in cars when anyone under 18 is present. First offenses are considered Class D violations, with a presumptive fine of $110, with subsequent offenses considered Class C violations with a presumptive fine of $160.
  • Vermont bans smoking in cars with a child “required to be properly restrained in a federally approved child passenger restraining system,” and imposes a fine of “not more than $100.”
  • Most recently, in 2016, Virginia began to prohibit smoking in cars with children under age eight with a civil fine of $100.

ASTHO is tracking 23 bills introduced in 15 jurisdictions to specifically protect children from secondhand smoke in cars, but there are many other ways to prioritize youth in tobacco control and to minimize the harms of secondhand smoke in all environments. State and territorial health agencies are building and strengthening partnerships to champion successful smoke-free housing programs, directly engaging youth as tobacco control advocates, and encouraging tobacco-free colleges and universities. ASTHO supports aggressive efforts to reduce tobacco use, and additional resources are available on the ASTHO Tobacco web page.