By Alexa H. Bluth
California lawmakers are considering a bill that would make
California the first state in the nation to prohibit smokers
from lighting up in a private car when children are present.
The proposal by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-South Gate,
has drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers who say it goes
too far in attempting to police personal behavior.
Supporters, however, call it a crucial stride toward protecting
the state's children from the damaging effects of secondhand
"It just seemed to me that it was one effective, intelligent
way to reduce the risk to kids," said Firebaugh, who
said that asthma is common among children in his home district
in southeast Los Angeles.
Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, called the measure
"big brother government."
"Government is going to raise our kids for us because
parents don't know what's best? That's a very scary thought,"
The measure would allow officers to ticket a person found
smoking a pipe, cigar or cigarette in a car with anyone 18
or under present.
A 2001 survey conducted for the California Department of
Health Services found 29 percent of high school students surveyed
said they had recently ridden in a car with someone who smoked.
"People can smoke in their own car if they like,"
Firebaugh said, "but they just shouldn't expose their
minor children to the dangerous effects of their habits."
No other state has a law as sweeping as the California proposal,
though some have specific restrictions on smoking in certain
vehicles, according to the American Lung Association.
Delaware, for instance, prohibits smoking in a vehicle that
is being used as part of child health-care or day-care transportation.
Maine bars foster parents from smoking in their vehicle when
their foster children are present.
Legislators in other states, including New York, have proposed
similar measures to Firebaugh's, the association said. Bills
pending in Georgia and New Hampshire would prohibit smoking
in private vehicles when a youngster in a child-restraining
seat is present.
American Lung Association spokesman Paul Knepprath compared
California's proposal, which his organization supports, to
requiring seat belt use.
"It's not unlike some of the steps that government has
taken to protect children when they are riding in automobiles
from the impact of collisions and so forth," he said.
"It's to save their lives."
The Assembly's Transportation Committee last week backed
the measure, which must be approved by the Appropriations
Committee to be sent to the Assembly floor.
A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said
he does not take positions on bills before they come to his
desk. Schwarzenegger has been criticized by anti-smoking groups
for his well-publicized love of cigars.
Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, a supporter of
the bill, acknowledged that some might see it as heavy-handed
but said she is willing to take a "more regulatory posture
on protecting children."
"A lot of parents know on the natural that this isn't
safe for their children, but I think enough don't that this
is a bill worth doing," she said.