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West Virginia lawmakers seek to ban smoking in cars with minors

CHARLESTON — A bill to prohibit smoking or vaping in a vehicle with a minor present passed the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee this week.

Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said while he supports Senate Bill 81 he doesn’t believe it will gain any more traction this session. He said the idea has advanced through the initial committee stage before, but then gets stalled as it moves through the Senate.

“The personal freedom-type people in my own caucus are opposed to it, and believe you can’t tell a parent what to do,” Maroney said. “So it probably won’t make the agenda on (the Senate Judiciary Committee), and it probably won’t pass the Senate.

“But I don’t think we wasted the committee’s time. It was good to take the half hour of time and have that discussion.”

According to the legislation, if a minor is in an automobile, and that minor is 17 years of age or under, no one can smoke in the vehicle.

If approved, smoking in a vehicle with a minor would not be a primary offense, meaning a police officer couldn’t pull over a driver for smoking with a child in the car. Instead, the charge could only be tacked on as a secondary offense.

The legislation calls for an offender to be fined $25, and that money would go into a fund to educate West Virginia’s youth about the dangers of tobacco.

Maroney, a medical doctor, said he “would have to agree to disagree” with those in his own party who oppose telling parents they can’t smoke in their car.

“I’m a big personal freedom guy,” he said. “But when your actions affect someone else, and they don’t have control over their environment, it isn’t a personal freedom.”

Maroney said the issues caused by the breathing in of second hand smoke are well-known, and among them are cancer and breathing issues.

For the young whose lungs are still developing, major health consequences can result, he said.

“Smoke causes problems — everyone knows that,” Maroney said. “But when it’s in an enclosed space, it’s a bigger problem. “

Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, also a member of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, is among the sponsors of SB 81.

He said he is a strong proponent of any anti-tobacco legislation, as well as any bills restoring funding to the state’s tobacco education program.

“A child doesn’t have a choice about whether they want to breathe in second hand smoke, that’s why it is important for the Legislature to step in and protect them,” Ihlenfeld said.

“There are some that say maybe this bill goes too far, but I disagree. When a parent or guardian isn’t going to be responsible enough to wait until they are finished driving to light up a cigarette, that’s when the Legislature has to step in and protect the most vulnerable.”

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