Smokers should police themselves in cars

By By Liz Carlston, Staff Writer

By Liz Carlston, Staff Writer

Back in the 1950s, smoking was a trendy status symbol. That was before society became educated about the negative effects of smoking, such as asthma and lung cancer. It was way before we understood that even secondhand smoke can cause problems.

Last week, the Utah House of Representatives defeated a bill that would have banned smoking in a car with a child present if the child is younger than 8 years old.

House Bill 284, sponsored by Rep. Jay Seegmiller, D-Sandy, was defeated by a 7-3 vote in the House Transportation Committee because some lawmakers feared it infringed on personal property rights. The bill was supported by Utah law enforcement and would have imposed a $45 fine per violation. The age of 8 was chosen as the cutoff because that is the cutoff age of when children are no longer required to be in a car seat.

H.B. 284 would have installed a second degree offense, meaning police officers would not be able to pull vehicles over if they only saw the drivers smoking. Instead, the smoking violation would have had to be coupled with a different violation like speeding.

Although the spirit of the bill is good in that it attempts to protect a group that doesn’t have a voice, it is not an effective use of law enforcement and it doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint.

According to the Utah State Legislature Web site, the bill would require $6,600 per year to be appropriated to the courts for servicing the initiative while only creating $5,000 in revenue. That’s not a lot compared to the entire state budget, but in the face of already extreme budget cuts, it’s not a necessary expense.

Having said that, the American Lung Association has found that secondhand smoke is the cause of 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, causing 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year. It is also the cause of 430 sudden infant death syndrome deaths in the United States each year.

Smoking should be a no-brainer decision, particularly when a child with developing lungs is present. But the government shouldn’t be responsible for policing citizens’ behavior around their children. They should be able to police themselves.

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Liz Carlston