SALT LAKE CITY — Utah law prohibits smoking in a number of places, and a bill at the Legislature aims to add one more — a person's private vehicle.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, on Tuesday introduced to the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee HB13, which would prohibit smoking in a vehicle when children age 15 and younger are passengers.
Arent said it is "the most dangerous" location, given the enclosed space and potentially high concentration of secondhand smoke.
"I don't take lightly to telling people what they can do in their cars, but secondhand smoke can cause a lifetime of damage to the lungs of a child," she said.
Arent fostered a similar bill that passed during last year's session, regulating tanning salon use among children and teens, for whom the service has been proven to be more harmful.
"A child has the right to grow up healthy," she said.
Dr. Kevin Nelson, a pediatrician at Primary Children's Medical Center, said the bill would perpetuate "the Utah way" of putting children first. A 2010 health department survey, he said, revealed that one in four asthmatic children in Utah is exposed to smoke in cars, which can be toxic to their developing lungs.
"Tests have shown that within five minutes, smoke in an enclosed vehicle reaches toxin levels exceeded by the Environmental Protection Agency," Nelson said.
Long-term effects of secondhand smoke include potential mental health issues, meningitis and asthma, among others, he said.
HB13 would make smoking in a vehicle when children are passengers a secondary offense. The bill specifies that law enforcement may only issue a warning for violations up to July 1, 2014. After that, violators may be fined up to $45, which can be waived on the first offense if violators enroll in a smoking cessation program.
"It is a light penalty, but it makes a huge difference to be able to say this is illegal," Arent said.
Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, also a pediatrician, said he is "dedicated to taking cigarettes out of society. I hate cigarettes."
But he and one other committee member, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, voted against the bill, stating personal liberties were more important.
"No matter what position you take, you're going to come under fire from certain people," Greene said. Although, he said he believes "any parent who smokes in the presence of their child … is just plain stupid."
It is the fourth time Arent has sponsored the bill. It successfully passed through the Senate in 2008, the House in 2011 and through a House committee in 2012, but each year it has failed to be passed by the entire body due to time restrictions of the 45-day session.