Weprin bill aims to keep kids smoke-free in cars

Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) has proposed a bill that can fine anyone in the state up to $100 for smoking in a car carrying children under the age of 14. AP Photo/Gerry Broome
By Evelyn Cheng

Smoking bans may soon extend from city parks to cars carrying passengers under age 14.

On Sunday, state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) addressed concerned youth and representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics District II New York State about his proposed bill — A7285/S3082 — that would ban smoking in cars with young children.

“It is of utmost importance to protect our children, whose bodies are still developing and who often do not have a voice of their own,” Weprin said.

The ban would be enforced by government officials who could stop any vehicle with a smoker and a child under the age of 14. Violators could be fined up to $100.

About one in four New Yorkers smoke, with the largest percentage of smokers in the under-40 age category.

“Most parents would be horrified at the thought of someone blowing smoke in their baby’s face, but when a child is riding in a car with an adult who is smoking, the effect is the same,” said Donald Distasio, CEO of the American Cancer Society of NY & NJ. “Kids don’t have the choice, but lawmakers can choose to protect them by prohibiting smoking in cars occupied by children under age 14. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke, with short-term problems being more acute asthma attacks and respiratory issues and long-term effects that could include cancer and heart disease. Is this the future that parents would want for their kids?”

Bayside resident David, who withheld his real name, suffers from asthma incurred from his father’s lifelong smoking habit.

“Sometimes it’s ignorance,” he said, referring to parents who smoke in cars without considering the harm to their children’s health. “[The ban] is a step in the right direction.”

The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General reports that no level of exposure to secondhand smoke is safe.

“[It is] becoming more and more difficult to smoke … making [the ban] another tool for [the state] to help prevent exposure to our children,” said Dan Jacobsen, family nurse practitioner at North Shore University Hospital’s Center for Tobacco Control. “[The ban] may be the impetus to a decrease in smokers.”

But not everyone believes the smoking ban is worth the government’s time.

“I don’t think that’s effective,” Elizabeth Hargnett of Bayside said. “Secondhand smoke is the smallest problem. We have to get rid of all the carcinogens from cars first.”

Weprin said his goal in supporting the bill is increasing awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke and hopefully prompting a reduction in smoking.

The state Department of Health guidelines for smokers already suggest against smoking in cars with passengers present.

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

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