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Bill would prohibit smoking in car with kids

By Alexa H. Bluth
Sacramento Bee

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 smoke.

"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," Mountjoy said.

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.

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