SALT LAKE CITY — A bill banning smoking in vehicles when children age 15 or younger are passengers passed the House Monday after a long debate about how much control the government should have over personal behavior.
HB13 was approved 41-30 and now goes to the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said sitting in a vehicle with a smoker is more dangerous to children than putting "a lit cigarette in their mouth" because of the high concentration of secondhand smoke.
Arent said other activities are already banned in vehicles, including drinking alcohol and texting, and smoking is banned in public places, including the state Capitol.
"Sadly, our law allows smoking in the most dangerous place for a child," she said.
But a number of lawmakers questioned whether such a ban would lead to restrictions on other personal behaviors.
"Where does it end? We just passed a resolution last week on obesity. Using this same logic, we should then probably run a bill that fines parents when they supersize their kids' meals," Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Orem, said.
Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, also asked where lawmakers should draw the line. A doctor, he said, smokers need encouragement to quit rather than the threat of punishment.
"Smokers are pitiful people," Kennedy said, describing them as often poor, depressed, economically disadvantaged and anxious. "Do we really want to hurt them more?"
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said if smoking is banned in a private vehicle, what's to keep lawmakers from looking at prohibiting parents from smoking in their homes.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said the bill was a health issue. The four-time open heart surgery patient said he was exposed to secondhand smoke as a child.
"This just simply makes sense," Ray said, calling the bill an effort to protect the lungs of children.
Arent said later she hopes the Senate will be more moderate on the issue. Similar bills, including one carried by her, have always failed in the past to win approval from both houses of the Legislature.
She accepted an amendment made on the floor of the House to allow smoking in convertibles with their tops down when children are present but wants to talk with medical experts to ensure that's safe.