House bill would ban smoking in vehicles with kids inside

OLYMPIA --  If you are driving with a minor, lighting up could get expensive.

About a half-dozen states have already banned smoking in cars with kids. And Washington may be next.

House Bill 2086 is trying to ban anyone from lighting a cigarette, a cigar or pipe while parked or driving if there is someone under 18 in the vehicle. A state House committee hearing was held on the legislation Tuesday.

“Toxic chemicals that are coming out of someone smoking in a car is the same as a firefighter fighting a forest fire for four to eight hours,” state Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton, said.

Supporters of the bill say they want to protect the quarter-million Washington kids who live with smokers.

"Research shows that kids of smokers are twice as likely to become smokers themselves I am one of those children,” said Meagan Darrow, deputy director of the Lacey-based TOGETHER,  a positive youth development advocacy group.

“We also know it’s an asthma trigger; 10 percent of our kids in our state have asthma,” Paul Davis of the state Department of Health said.

Health officials are clearly on board, but some lawmakers say the smoking ban would overburden law enforcement.

“I don’t know how we can expect them (police) to stop everyone who is smoking a cigarette to see if there is a child in the car,” state Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, said.

The fine would be $125 for the first offense, additional violations could be as much as $250.

It would not show up on a driver’s record or be reported to an insurance company but some say the government is still going too far.

“When I see someone smoking with a kid in the car, I feel bad for the kids. But, on the other hand, it’s one of those issues ... how far is too far for the government to come in and parent?” Thurston County resident Debra Defreyn said.

“I don`t think they should intervene. That’s like coming to my house to tell me I can’t do something in my house,” resident Charles Loughlin said.

“If (being) in a car was the same as being in a house, we wouldn't be talking about this right now, but it’s 50 times more toxic. It means a lot,” Bergquist said.

The measure has been proposed in the past, but has not passed. In this version of the bill, the infraction would be a primary offense. That means a police officer could simply pull someone over if they see someone smoking and they think a minor is in the car.