Should Smoking in Vehicles Be Outlawed?

Over the past few decades, governments throughout the U.S. have been implementing tighter restrictions on where smoking is allowed. Today, smoking is outlawed in many offices, restaurants, sporting venues, and public buildings. It’s getting to be that the only places where smokers can light up is at home or in their cars.

But will that second option be taken away by lawmakers in the coming years?

Probably not altogether – but there is a new movement to ban smoking in all cars where children are present. In fact, a new bill was introduced in early February in Ohio which would prohibit smoking in vehicles that are carrying children ages six years of age and younger. Under the legislation, violators would face a minimum fine of $500.

This concept is not new. Louisiana, Arkansas, Maine, and California all have laws on the books which prohibit smoking in vehicles occupied by children below a certain age (13, 14, 16, and 18, respectively). In addition, several cities and counties across America have similar bans in place, including West Long Branch, New Jersey; Rockland County, New York; and Hawaii County, Hawaii. And a total of 17 states also forbid smoking in vehicles that are transporting foster children.

There is substantial research which supports these types of bans. Two different studies published in 2011 found a correlation between secondhand smoke and adverse health effects in children; including respiratory diseases, lung disorders, and even mental illnesses like ADHD, major depression, and panic disorder.

But while the “children in cars” smoking restrictions are gaining traction across the U.S., there’s no sign that a total ban on smoking in vehicles will take hold in America. But the same cannot be said for Britain. In November of 2011, a report released by the British Medical Association’s Board of Science called for the U.K. to implement a total smoking ban in all private vehicles. The organization says the measure would be a crucial step in achieving what it calls a “tobacco-free society by 2035.”

In the U.S., there are pros and cons to a complete smoking ban in vehicles. In addition to the behavior alteration of smokers which are designed to improve their own health, these laws would reduce incidents of distracted driving caused by fiddling with cigarettes as well as cut down on instances of littering when smokers flick their ashes or butts out of their car windows. But many Americans (non-smokers included) are resistant to the idea of the government regulating yet another activity which they feel should be an individual’s personal choice.

All that said, there’s other ways besides legislation to accomplish the goal of keeping our kids safe from secondhand smoke. Maybe auto insurance companies should start giving premium discounts to drivers who smoke but choose not to light up when kids are in the car. After all, improving the air quality in vehicles where kids are passengers is certainly a good idea – right?

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