Smoking in a car with kids could bring $500 fine in Ohio

People who smoke in cars with kids under age 6 would face a $500 fine, if a bill proposed by state Sen. Charletta Tavares becomes law.

“They have no say in getting into an enclosed vehicle with someone who is smoking,” said Tavares, D-Columbus. “Their little lungs breathe deeper, particularly infants. They breathe deeper and they breathe faster.”

Tavares said Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Vermont have already adopted restrictions on smoking with minors in vehicles, though the age threshold set by those states ranges from 8 to 17.

“We want to be in a leadership position as a state, rather than be one of the last states to protect the health and well-being of our children,” Tavares said.

Related: Decade after smoking ban, more than 20% of Ohioans still smoke

So, how does Tavares respond to those who say the idea represents a “nanny state”? Adults can smoke when kids aren’t in the car or they can pull over and step out to smoke, she said. “It is very dangerous and it is going to impact the health and well-being of that child. It is a public health issue.”

Related: New push for raising smoking age

The bill, introduced this week, has support from just three other Democrats and there are no Republican co-sponsors — a signal that the legislation faces an uphill battle.

Tavares introduced a similar bill last legislative session but it received only one hearing.

The bill covers smoking cigars, cigarettes, pipes or “other lighted smoking device for burning tobacco or any other plant.” First offense could result in a $500 fine and subsequent violations could bring $750 in fines.

Dr. Rob Crane, a family physician at Ohio State University and founder of Preventing Tobacco Addiction, said “Think about the 3-year-old involuntary passenger in a smoke-filled car. The data are pretty clear that second-hand smoke is harmful.”

It leads to asthma, ear infections and other health problems, he said.

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