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In Illinois, people smoking in a car carrying a child can now face fines up to $250. At least nine other states have similar policies.
Illinois residents can be ticketed for smoking in a car in the presence of a minor under a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week.
House Bill 2276 prohibits smoking in a vehicle in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. Enforcement is not limited to drivers, and the law defines smoking as inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying “a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, weed, plant, regulated narcotic, or other combustible substance.” It doesn’t matter whether the car is moving at the time or if the windows are rolled down. Offenders can be ticketed, with a first offense costing up to $100 and subsequent violations costing up to $250. E-cigarettes are exempted.
The bill, which passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, does not permit police to stop or detain someone solely on suspicion of smoking in a car with a minor present. But law enforcement officials can ticket passengers and drivers during unrelated traffic stops.
Similar measures had been introduced in the state legislature in the past but failed to gain traction. The current version received support from about a dozen outside organizations, including the Illinois State Medical Society, the Respiratory Health Association and the state chapter of the American Lung Association, which praised the bill as a protective measure for children.
“Breathing secondhand smoke causes several health issues in children, like sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and ear infections, as well as wheezing, coughing, and getting sick more often,” Kathy Drea, a lobbyist for the Lung Association, said in a statement. “It is essential to avoid smoking near children, especially in a small enclosed spaces like cars.”
More than 41,000 people in the U.S. die each year from secondhand smoke exposure, according to the Lung Association. Because children’s lungs are smaller, they are more susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke.
At least nine other states and Puerto Rico have implemented some form of the same law, though specifics vary from place to place. Arkansas, for example, prohibits smoking in a vehicle with a minor under the age of 14; in Maine and Utah, the cutoff age is 16. In Virginia, it’s 8, and in Vermont, it’s 9. Illinois’ law took effect immediately.
“This law protects [our] most vulnerable citizens from dangerous secondhand smoke,” Illinois Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said on Twitter. “It’s not a primary offense but adults will think before smoking in a car with a minor present.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.