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Smoking in the car with kids: Should it be illegal?

2279778407_0a9e48748c It's not every morning that I've read the paper by 7:30 AM, but this morning the stars aligned in our house and I made it through all 6 pages of The O (OK, slight exaggeration on the 6 pages).  Maybe you saw it too?  The short piece about the debate in Salem over a bill proposed to make smoking in cars with kids illegal. 

No doubt we all have an immediate, sort of gut reaction to this.  But after reading the full article (instead of just the headline, my usual M.O. these days), it proves to be an interesting debate with a bundle of pros and cons.  Like:

  • Declaring something illegal sends a strong message.
  • Will everyone call 911 when they see someone smoking in the car with kids?  Clogging the lines for emergencies?
  • Is it just a tad too far for government?  How is it different than car seats? 
  • 4 other states have this law (!): Arkansas, CA, ME, and LA.  WA is pondering it.
  • Is education effective enough to be a real alternative?
  • What would the penalty be?
  • Would kids report their parents? (I added that one)
  • The adverse health effects are significant and not at all in question.
  • More than once I've been annoyed that I can't decide when it's appropriate to leave my kids in the car, that I am penalized because some parents make bad decisions with occasioanlly tragic outcomes.  But in this case, if you're a non-smoker it simply doesn't affect you.  Easier to support a law that affects someone else, right?

The bill (H2385) had its 1st hearing in the legislature last Friday.  House Transportation Committee members want more info before scheduling a vote on the floor of the House.  Read the bill here and contact your legislator if you've got a strong opinion.  I'm torn.  Leaning toward yes, but sorting out the issues.  I'm about as liberal as they come, but I weigh heavily government intervention into personal decisions.  You??

[Thanks to flickr for the pic, the title of which is 'child abuse.'  Guess someone has a strong opinion!]


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I *HATE* seeing people smoke in the car with children, but you got me with the leaving the kids in the car thing. It might be going a little too far for the government. There are so many little "child abuses" going on like that, it seems strange to just isolate the behavior in the car. Should it be illegal to only feed your kids Fruit Loops and TV dinners? How about babies drinking coke? What about smoking in the home? Maybe smoking in the car should be illegal because it's a distraction to driving...that would be a more appropriate angle, I think.

This is one of my peeves, too. But again, there is the argument of where do we draw the line? I agree that any government intervention into parent choice is a scary step. However, it's already illegal to give alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to your kids. If it's illegal for kids to smoke, it should be illegal to force them to second hand smoke as well. What would the penalty be for blowing pot smoke into your kid's face? Perhaps it can be a 'secondary' violation, like talking on your cell phone is in some states. That way, they can't pull you over just for that, but if they pull you over for something else, and you also happen to be smoking with kids in the car you get an additional violation. Tough subject! And on a Saturday morning, too! :D

I agree. My grandmother used to smoke in the car when I was a kid, and she would actually yell at me if I opened the window a crack to get some fresh air! "It's not gonna kill ya!"
But, really? the government can't step in on every single dumbass decision that some parents make. I think an even bigger peeve I have with smokers is that they are almost universally litter bugs too. When I see a smoker toss a cigarette butt out of their car, I feel an urge to flip them off. But I just take deep breaths instead. Why can't the government charge a nickel per cigarette butt deposit that could then be returned to be disposed of properly, like bottles? Sorry for the rant. I'll stop now!

Jacquelyn made a great point that if it's illegal for them to be smoking, than maybe it should be illegal for them to be subjected to second hand smoke. I like to think that the majority of decisions should be made by individual parents, but on this subject I absolutely think it should be illegal. I hold no judgment on people for their choice to smoke so long as they don't force it on others.

What about smoking in the house with you kids?

I think this is a dangerous precedent. Smoking is bad, yes, but the link between secondhand smoke is still under debate.

Since we know heart disease is the number one killer, should it be illegal to take your kids to the drive through at McDonalds?

I find the notion leads the whole concept of whether one "deserves" to have kids because they aren't educated, etc enough.

There is a mountain of data that clearly illustrates the deadliness of secondhand smoke. To suggest that this is still under debate is untrue.

I believe subjecting your child to secondhand smoke is child abuse. I used to smoke and it's a tough habit to shed... but it's not about the smoker, it's about the kids and the spouses who are subjected to secondhand smoke.

Some people don't properly nourish their kids, choose not to educate themselves about basic nutrition, force smoke on young lungs and make bad choices. These people who generally don't take the utmost care in the well-being of any child in their care does NOT "deserve" a child.

Just because you can have them doesn't mean you deserve or should have them.


I feel the same way as Monica.....but I will add to that. There should be no smoking in cars with your dog in it either. Dogs get lung cancer from secondhand smoke.

I also have been told that the smoke that lingers on your clothing is considered secondhand smoke. so, when that little one snuggles up to you(a smoker) for love and protection, you are risking their health, their life.

Some people feel that parents who don't vaccinate children on "schedule" are harming them and don't deserve to have them.

It's a slippery slope. If my value system varies from yours, can I still tell you what you must do to deserve your kids? Trust that we have a child welfare system that is overburdened and often cannot ensure the safety of its charges. Trust that this law like many others will be selectively enforced and the burden will be borne by the poorer among us. I remember a mama posting on uMs that she isn't eligible for state child care subsidies because her child isn't fully vaccinated.

Until smoking is ILLEGAL, I think it's a slippery slope.

I support this. I find it really sad that we have come to having to legislate things like this. Oregon has agreed that second hand smoke is harmful enough to patrons and employees to ban it in bars, but it's okay for children, who have no choice, to be subjected to it in enclosed spaces?

I understand the slippery slope, but it's gobbledy goop... Kids should not be subjected to secondhand smoke. Parents need to take responsibility and ownership for these most basic health issues that are absolutely within their control.

I smoked a pack a day of Marlboro Reds for 10 years and know that smokers are able to wait. I didn't light up in the office. Not allowed. Not healthy for my co-workers... I'd wait until after my meeting/task and go downstairs.

There are no rationales on this issue.

Monica makes a really good point. We've already made laws against subjecting co-workers, restaurant staff and other members of society to secondhand smoke...why not protect our most valuable citizens?

I am the child of two parents who smoked in the car and the house and now I have asthma...it would have been nice if someone told my parents to cut it out...

I used to be insulted that there were laws about no smoking in the work place, excepting the restaurant and hospitality industry. Like my bartending, waitressing lungs were less valuable somehow. And I was a smoker! This one's a no-brainer to me. Endangering the welfare of a minor is a crime. How does this not fall into that category?

No one smoked in my home nor my car when I was growing up in the Stone Age. I don't think I know anyone who would do that today. I still have asthma.

And I know that no laws are equitably enforced. I know women who were drug tested throughout the pregnancies because they were poor, black and on medicaid, while illegal drug-using white middle class expectant moms were not. So this kinda stuff makes me nervous.

When the Legislature deides that un-vacc'd kids are endangered and a public safety risk, I'll be interested to see how that discussion shakes out here.

While I think smoking in the car with kids is a very bad idea.. I'm not happy about the chipping away of rights. What's next?

I have one soda a day. It's my only vice. But someone out there may think its child abuse for my kids to see me consuming corn syrup in this way.

Get a grip and mind your own business sometimes.

Would you say the same thing if you saw a kid with bruises or burns on the OUTSIDE of their body? Hot-boxing a kid in a car with a known carcinogen is not the same as drinking a soda in front of them or choosing not to vaccinate. It is actively causing bodily harm. I'm not saying I think people should be tossed in jail, but a fine would be good. Something comparable to not having your seat belt on or going over the speed limit seems fair.

I remember when they started enforcing the curfew laws a couple of Spring Breaks ago. The only kids whose parents received tickets were black, because those were the only kids targeted by PPB. I can assure you that a lot of kids of every ethnicity and income level are out past curfew any given night but especially during Spring Break. So whatever one's intention may be for this law protecting children, we have no control over how it's enforced and who it's enforced on. What happens if the parent can't afford the fine? What happens if the officer decides to make a CPS report?

And the drum beat about unvaccinated kids being a "public health risk" has already begun in Oregon. I have seen news stories about health summits on children being in "grave danger" because they are not "Fully vaccinated".

My son asked me today why I don't speed and my answer was that I didn't want to spend my money on the ticket. If you can't afford the consequence, then don't do behavior.

That aside, I think it's awful to be exposing kids to smoke. I think there are plenty of other things parents do that have known health risks, fast food, allowing children to be obese at young ages, etc. and we're not targeting those. But, I will always stand on the side of not legislating good judgment and morality.

Having a soda is much different than subjecting a kid to second hand smoke. To "get a grip" would be to advocate against such an unhealthy activity.

Rights? Gimme a break.

Yes, having A soda is different. And having ONE cigarette is different. If you think that I'm suggesting that giving your child a soda is life threatening, then you're really not listening to the argument. Why is smoking in the car any different than feeding your child in a way that causes them to develop juvenile diabetes? The argument, to me, is about a persistent pattern of behavior on a parent's part that is motivated by selfishness and a disregard for the health of their children. This behavior exists in all different areas, smoking just being one of them. The point is, there are parents that have bad judgement and it absolutely infuriates me to see children getting the short end of that stick. But that doesn't mean the government has a place to pick and choose to enforce the hot topic of the day and ignore things that are just as serious but perhaps less popular.

In a society as evolved as ours, one of the many functions of government should be to protect those who can't protect themselves.


I definitely get your point, and certainly racial and economic profiling is a huge issue that can't be ignored in these debates. This particular issue is more hot button for me, I suppose, which makes it worth the potential issues that could arise because of it, but on other comparable issues of government interference in personal and parental choices, I would side with you in a heartbeat, which begs the question, can we pick and choose how and when we allow our government to take a more active roll in protecting the rights of children, without endangering our rights as a whole? An earlier poster suggesting making it less about parenting choices by simply making it illegal to smoke while driving, similar to several states' cell phone laws. Of course, this does nothing for the issues of targeting minorities and poorer people (which is less an issue of our laws, and more an issue of how we enforce them), but it side-steps the debate over how much we should allow government a say in parenting choices. Because, even as I support this particular behavior being punishable, the comment above me makes the pro-choice advocate in me hear alarm bells all over the place, even if I agree with its intent in this discussion. It's a fine line, always.

I want to suggest another way to look at the comment above yours. You state that you are a pro-choice advocate and that the comment causes alarm bells, but pro-choice is the decision to have or not have and once that baby is born, if the mother or caretaker chooses not to put the kids' best interest ahead of her/his need for a smoke in the house or the car, then government needs to step in to keep that child safe. In my opinion. *End note to e.
Just because cigs are legal doesn't make them any less harmful than alcohol, pot, or any other drug. The government says that you can't give those to children and we all agree that is logical. Why would this be any different? Secondhand smoke kills. That's a fact. This society has a lot of people who are ignorant and egocentric and the government has to step in because we can't just haul them off to an island.


oh, that's not how I look at it, it just sounds to me a lot like the kind of justifications that get stretched to cover things I don't support.

Oops. I misunderstood.

Actually you can give alcohol to your own children in the State of Oregon. I wouldn't do it, I think it's weird that it's legal. It can't be done in an "endangering" way.

Clearly the gals here who are not in support of this law are smokers. Only a selfish smoker would debate this. Children do not deserve to be subjected to this. Why would we even think twice unless we were being selfish and thinking of our "right" to smoke? Smoking is a physical assault on those who do not want to inhale second-hand smoke. I know second-hand smoke is deadly and how dare a smoker subject me, my children or anyone to their selfish habit.
It angers me to my very core!

No one who has posted believes that smoking in a car with kids in a good or even neutral thing to do.

this "gal" has explained very clearly her concerns. Honestly, the law won't affect me nor anyone in my WIDE circle of friends and acquaintances. Even the pack a day smokers without children don't smoke in the house or the car.

Take a deep, clear breath it'll be alright.

I'm not a smoker. That has nothing to do with my view on this. I simply believe in limiting the government's role in issues of morality, judgment, and parenting. I don't think it will solve the problem of exposing children to second-hand smoke and it will only invite law-makers further into my home. Thank you, but no.

Problem is taking that deep not so clear breath might cause asthma, sids, bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections or maybe lung cancer.
Rights? Right to what? Harm a child, spouse, family, friend? I can do without that right and not feel like Big Brother is watching, just me, I don't know. Unfiltered cigarette smoke contains 4000 chemicals that are known to cause cancer in humans.

Here's what the EPA says about this issue:

I have smoked in a car with my child in it. It was irresponsible and wrong.

I have been driving in a car with my husband and kid and have been pulled over for no good reason. It wasn't the first time and we think it's skin color. (We aren't white)

The incidence of smoking occurs at a higher rate in communities of color than in the Caucasian population. This law would disproporationately affect communities of color.

I think one thing the work group is exploring (I'm not sure, but I *think*) is that law enforcement is not allowed to pull over a driver simply for smoking in the car. I don't know what the official language is, but there needs to be another primary reason why a driver be pulled over. I am interested in learning more about how this law would be implemented and prevent the racial profiling (yeah, right).

Still, I would say I support this. Second-hand smoke negative health effects are proven, and children need to be protected from the harms of tobacco. There are increasing laws against smoking in public places - new laws in place this year banning smoking in bars and all businesses.

Applying legislation to the car steps into the private realm, but it has been done before (requiring seat belt use, banning use of cell phones) for the sake of the public's safety and health.

I am not a smoker, but this law seems quite invasive. There needs to accountability as a people and having another law (that will be hard to enforce) will only casue more problems.

The governement is making it harder and harder for people to smoke, which I agree with, but we have to draw the line, you can not dictate how parents raise their children. If we make it ilegal to smoke in cars kids are not really protected they still will get second hand smoke in their homes!

Perhaps we raise the cigerette tax, or just ban the nasty things all together!

In my opinion all of you who allow your children outdoors are putting your children in harms way every day. Have you not heard of the sun's damaging effects on young skin (even with sunblock)? It should be ILLEGAL to allow your kids to go outside because you, in all of your selfishness, have things to do! From now on every parent should stay indoors with their children until they are at least eighteen and able to decide for themselves if they want skin cancer. Any parent seen outdoors with their children should be fined, and food should be taken out of their children's mouths. Too far?

Not "too far"... ridiculous, MYOB. This is one of today's few issues where there is literally no grey area and to make absurd and flawed correlations is silly. We can't choose to breath the air outside, but we can choose whether or not to subject others to unfiltered cigarette smoke.

I don't really understand all the discussion on this. It seems so clear. It's not OK to smoke in the with kids.

Just saw this article about how second-hand smoke causes dementia. Kinda changes my feelings on this: http://tinyurl.com/cje42p

I've been smoking since before my daughter was born and she's 8 years old now. She's the top athlete and top scholar in her school and I've always smoked in the car with her. The argument here is not clear, but my windows are rolled all the way down and when I'm sitting at a red light or slowing down to stop at a stop sign I hold the cigarette out the window and I won't take another drag until the car is in motion again. There is nothing wrong with smoking in a car with your children especially when you're traveling on a long trip across the country. I do agree that it is not right to smoke in the house with the children so I've always smoked outside, but the whole argument about smoke staying in your clothes is crap because my daughter is beyond healthy.

Samantha, I was a top athlete as well throughout school. At 30 years old, I am still an athlete. My mother smoked with me in the car. She never smoked in the house. I have lung disease. Emphysema. Stop trying to justify your actions. Educate yourself about smoking, the effects of second hand smoke and the effects of third hand smoke. I hate to sound like a jerk but, seriously, you need to educate yourself.

What about smoking while pregnant?

This page used to have some really enjoyable debates. Here's an update on this one.

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