Va. lawmakers consider banning smoking in a vehicle while minors are present

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV/CNS) — A bill has been proposed – again – to make it illegal for Virginia drivers to smoke while anyone under the age of 18 is in the vehicle.

Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-House District 31) introduced HB 578, which "expands the group in the presence of whom it is illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle from minors under the age of eight to any minor."

Right now, Virginia law bans smoking in a motor vehicle containing any passengers under the age of 8. That law took effect just a few years ago in 2016, providing for a $100 fine against anyone violating the law.

It's a secondary offense, so only applies if a driver is also pulled over for a primary offense.

A Virginia Beach police officer drew nationwide attention in 2018 for writing a ticket for a violation of the law and posting a photo of the ticket to social media, saying, "Protect your children and keep $100 in your pocket! "

Last year, a bill proposed to increase the age in the law to 16 was voted down on party lines in a subcommittee.

The five Republicans on the subcommittee voted in favor of killing the measure; the three Democrats on the panel voted against killing it.

The bill was sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William.

“As a mother, it was of great surprise to me to learn that children over the age of 8 can be exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles,” Guzman said in a press release when she introduced the bill on Jan. 7. “Virginia needs to update its code to reflect the evidence-based results of medical studies.” According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is the cause of more than 41,000 deaths per year, and about 37 percent of children in the U.S have been exposed to such smoke.

Guzman’s bill would have applied not only to tobacco smoking but also to vaping.

“Children under the age of 16 should also be protected from the smoke originated from vaping,” she said. “It is so popular right now in high schools.”

Guzman said smokers “need to understand that secondhand smoke is the most dangerous part. And it is not fair that children are voiceless, that they cannot do anything to protect themselves.”

Similarly, a bill proposed across the mountain in the West Virginia legislature ultimately died in committee, though it made it farther than the Virginia bill did.

State Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, the Senate Majority Leader then, said the bill was inspired by one of his patients who suffers from complications due to the secondhand smoke she endured as a child.

Other states have changed their laws on secondhand smoke.

In Kansas, it’s illegal to smoke in a vehicle with minors under 14, and in Louisiana, under 13.