I recently testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health to encourage the favorable report of H1170 “An Act to Protect Little Lungs,” filed by Representative Paul Heroux. This bill would ban smoking in a car if a child is small enough to be in a car seat and carry a $100 fine in instances of a violation. Currently under the law, anyone under the age of eight is required to be fastened and secured by a child passenger restraint, unless they are more than 57 inches in height.
In 2006, the United States Surgeon General released a Report—The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, concluding that secondhand smoke exposure has been linked to adverse effects in respiratory health in children, as well as ear infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.
Secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic. Children’s brains and bodies are still developing and exposure to these toxins in a confined space is detrimental to their healthy development. It is reported that 54% of children aged 3-11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke and opening a window or turning on the air conditioner does not protect children from secondhand smoke. Another study done by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that pollution from secondhand smoke in vehicles is higher than what is found in bars that allow smoking, and further found a significant increase in carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. In infants, carbon monoxide causes lethargy and a loss of alertness.
Eight states, including Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Vermont have made it illegal to smoke with minors in the car. All of the states, with the exception of Vermont, have higher age restrictions than what is being proposed in Massachusetts, with Vermont prohibiting anyone from smoking in a car with a child under 8. Oregon and California have restrictions on prohibiting smoking with anyone under age 18 in the car. All of these states have a fine associated with the offense.
The intent of the bill is not to police parents, nor is it to create a “nanny” state. It is to protect those children who would otherwise have no choice but to be exposed to these conditions, and to draw attention to how dangerous the effects of secondhand smoke are to developing babies and children in an enclosed space like a car.
These babies and children cannot walk away from the smoke and the health consequences are life-changing and sometimes deadly. There is not one study that suggests that secondhand smoke is harmless. Children do not deserve to be prisoners to the deadly results related to secondhand smoke and this straightforward piece of legislation could help to underscore that it is not okay to smoke with babies or children in the car. Let’s give Little Lungs a fighting chance so kids can lead the healthy lives they deserve.
Senator Katy Ives is in her second term as a Massachusetts State Senator from Newburyport. Ives is a Democrat. You can read her previous columns HERE