Bills would ban smoking in vehicles with children

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, January 23, 2013


RICHMOND—A bill to forbid smoking in cars carrying children is dead in the House, but a similar proposal remains alive in the Senate.

Sponsored by Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-Richmond, the bill would have made it illegal to smoke in a car if a child under 13 were in the vehicle.

The legislation would have made violations a secondary offense, meaning drivers could be cited only if pulled over for another reason. Violators could have been fined $100 under Morrissey’s bill.

A subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety deadlocked 3-3 Thursday on whether to recommend approval of the bill.

As a result, the motion failed.

Voting in favor of the bill were Dels. James Edmunds, R-Halifax; Israel O’Quinn, R-Galax; and Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington.

Voting against it were Republican Dels. Benjamin Cline of Amherst, Christopher Head of Roanoke and Tony Wilt of Harrisonburg.

There is still hope for anti-smoking legislation.

Sen. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who represents parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, has introduced a smoking ban when children under 15 are in the vehicle.

The bill initially was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. Last week, that panel sent it to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Northam is also sponsoring a bill that would allow local governments to ban smoking in public areas such as parks and beaches.

Arkansas, Louisiana, California, Maine and Puerto Rico ban smoking in cars with minors. The age varies from state to state.

Anti-smoking advocates would like to see Virginia join that list.

“Virginia is far behind what other states have,” said Bronson Frick, an assistant director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a national advocacy group.

Virginia does ban smoking in restaurants, but the state law doesn’t cover other areas. “It’d help Virginia be a part of a trend with most of the United States,” Frick said.

Most states that have outlawed smoking in the car with a child present, Frick said, usually take an educational approach, too. They have a campaign to inform the public about the health risks of second-hand smoke.

“It’s not just about passing the law but also implementing it,” Frick said.

Both of Northam’s bills will be heard this week at the General Assembly.