In our opinion: A bill against smoking in the car unlikely to result in fewer incidents

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

The dangers of cigarette smoking are well documented, yet people still do it. The dangers to children exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke are well documented, yet some parents still light up in the presence of their kids — and because they do, a Utah legislator thinks there ought to be a law.

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The dangers of cigarette smoking are well documented, yet people still do it. The dangers to children exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke are well documented, yet some parents still light up in the presence of their kids — and because they do, a Utah legislator thinks there ought to be a law.

Again, the question is raised as to whether it's in the proper purview of state government to legislate against something that anyone with common sense knows is a bad practice, and in this example, a case of appallingly bad parenting. Laws aimed at protecting children's health are always worth considering, but it's hard to view the measure proposed by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, as anything more than just another message bill.

Rep. Arent's legislation would make it an infraction to smoke in a car while children are present. The law would not allow police to pull over someone for the offense, but officers who stop a motorist for another reason could issue a secondary citation for smoking if there are children in the vehicle.

This legislation has been proposed before and has died in one committee or another under the weight of concerns that the state should not stick its legislative nose into the area of parental rights. This time around, Rep. Arent is hoping a change in the makeup of the House and Senate might tip the balance in her favor, though it shouldn't.

Parental rights aside, there are no persuasive data that making the practice illegal will stop people from doing it. A handful of other states and several municipalities have enacted such laws, but none have offered evidence that the rate of such incidents is thereby diminished. Even the advocacy group, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, admits on its website that a law, "by itself, is unlikely to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure in cars … " The organization says such laws should be accompanied by a "strong education effort."

The State of Utah has spent tens of millions of dollars on anti-smoking education programs. People who smoke know it's bad for them, and surveys show a large majority of smokers would like to quit. But it is a difficult habit to break, and that is why, against all reason and decency, people still smoke in front of their kids.

If parents are willing to risk their children's health to satisfy a craving for nicotine, they won't likely be deterred by the prospect of a $45 fine.

If there were persuasive evidence that a new law would actually result in fewer incidents, it would be worthy of support. As it stands, the bill simply uses state law to register societal disgust over behavior that is indefensible, whether it's legal or not.

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