California has joined the growing list of jurisdictions that prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children, which is now an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. Perhaps embarrassed at following Arkansas' lead in this area, California's legislators outdid the Natural State's by covering all passengers under 18. The Arkansas ban, by contrast, applies only to cars with passengers who are under 6 and weigh less than 60 pounds, the same passengers who are required to ride in child safety seats. That arbitrary-seeming scope actually makes some sense, since the evidence that secondhand smoke impairs children's health (by making them more prone to earaches and lower respiratory infections) relates to very small kids, not to older children and teenagers. And the Arkansas ban may actually be tougher, on balance, because police can pull people over for violating it. Under the new California law, police can cite smokers only after pulling them over for other reasons. Then again, California's ban opens up the possibility of stopping a 17-year-old for speeding, then ticketing his 18-year-old friend for endangering the driver by smoking in the backseat.
As I've said before, while smoking in a car with children in it may be inconsiderate or unwise, the level of risk it poses is not serious enough to justify state intervention. The same goes for smoking at home, where children of smokers get most of their secondhand smoke exposure. Yet I have little doubt that car smoking bans will soon be as ubiquitous as restaurant smoking bans, and it seems only a matter of time before parents who smoke at home are treated as child abusers.
[via The Rest of the Story]