Should Utah ban smoking in cars to protect kids from dangers?
An unlikely pair of lawmakers a Democrat from Salt Lake and Republican from Box Elder County are seeking to snuff out smoking in cars.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, wants to prohibit smoking in vehicles while a child, age 15 or younger, is present. Her draft bill, a repeat of past attempts, takes aim at a common source of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, is going after a lesser-known hazard known as third-hand smoke, the toxic residue that clings to a car's windows and upholstery long after a smoker is gone. At a Health and Human Services committee on Wednesday he floated the idea of an outright ban on smoking in company vehicles, such as freightliners, delivery trucks and rental cars.
"I want to test the waters," he said. "If this committee isn't for it, I'm going to have a hard time getting it through the Legislature."
Smoking bans have had a rough go in mandate-averse Utah. The state's indoor Clean Air Act bars smoking in public places, including offices, movie theaters, restaurants and pubs. But peoples' private property, their homes and their cars, is a domain where few conservatives have dared tread.
Arent conceded, "I don't take lightly telling the public what to do in their own car." Her bill would make smoking with child passengers a secondary offense, which means drivers could not be pulled over unless they were committing another violation. For the first year it would be enforced with a warning, and after that, a $45 penalty which could be waived for entering a smoking cessation program.
Arent said laws are often enacted to protect those unable to protect themselves. "We don't allow the drinking of alcohol in cars. We require children to be in car seats," she said.
Bolstered by testimony from doctors, law enforcement and the Utah PTA, Arent's bill passed with a single no vote.
Perry's proposed measure, however, was less warmly received.
For Perry, smoking in the company car is no different than smoking in the company board room. The state of Utah already has a no-smoking policy with its fleet vehicles, he said.
"We prohibit it in so many places, why wouldn't we do it in company vehicles?" he asked.
But lawmakers weren't convinced of the dangers of third-hand smoke, and were loathe to burden shipping and delivery companies with regulations.
"We're really talking about where to draw the line, and the line always moves," said Sen. Reid, R-Ogden. "I'm perplexed why someone isn't running legislation to outlaw cigarette smoking altogether in the state of Utah."
State health officials say the dangers of secondhand smoke are well documented and go hand-in-hand with third-hand smoke.
Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals and dozens of carcinogens, said Amy Oliver with the state's tobacco prevention and control program.
A 2011 survey found 14 percent of Utah students in grades 6 through 12 had in the previous week ridden in a car with a person who was smoking.
"When you open the car window or door, the smoke doesn't just go away. The residue sticks around in the ceiling liners, the upholstery, the air vent filters, the carpets and other surfaces, and then leeches onto peoples' clothes, hair and skin," said Oliver. "The same is true for people who smoke on their porch."
And the risks of exposure for children are greater, said Kevin E. Nelson a hospitalist at the University of Utah. "Their bodies are still developing. Their airways are smaller and their immune systems, less developed. They can't clear out the chemicals as easily as we can, and they inhale more chemicals per pound of weight than adults."