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Originally published Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bills would ban smoking when kids are in the car

Some lawmakers want to extend the state's smoking ban to inside your car — at least when children are there. Two bills in the Legislature...

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — Some lawmakers want to extend the state's smoking ban to inside your car — at least when children are there.

Two bills in the Legislature would make it a traffic infraction to smoke in a car carrying children. House Bill 2519 would outlaw smoking around passengers younger than 18, while Senate Bill 6287 sets the age limit at 13 or younger.

The proposals are aimed at protecting kids from secondhand smoke, which has been linked to asthma, cancer and other ailments.

"I'm not looking for ways to punish people," said Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, D-Normandy Park, sponsor of the House bill. "I want to address behaviors that address public-health issues."

Voters approved an initiative in 2006 banning smoking in public places statewide, including bars and restaurants.

If either of the current bills pass, Washington would join California, Arkansas and Louisiana as states that bar smoking in private vehicles carrying children.

Both bills would make the infraction a secondary offense, meaning a law-enforcement officer would have to stop a driver for another infraction, such as speeding, before issuing a smoking citation.

The smoking infractions wouldn't become part of the driver's record or be made available to insurance companies or employers.

State law already prohibits foster parents from smoking while a child is in the car.

"It seemed only logical to protect all kids, not just foster kids," said Sen. Chris Marr, who's sponsoring the Senate bill.

Both Marr, D-Spokane, and Schual-Berke said they don't care which of the two bills is successful.

"A kid who is reeking of tobacco and coughing of asthma doesn't really care if it's a House bill or a Senate bill," Schual-Berke said.

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The legislation has widespread support, including from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association. Law-enforcement agencies, state troopers and firefighters also back the bills.

There is little or no opposition from the tobacco industry.

Philip Morris, one of the largest tobacco companies in the country, chose not to oppose the bills.

"Our general position is that we believe that particular care should be exercised when it comes to children, and adults should avoid smoking around them," said David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris. "It's really that simple."

The little opposition that Marr and Schual-Berke said they've heard is from within the Legislature. Some lawmakers fear the proposed ban is another extension of the so-called "nanny state," where government increasingly takes away choice in order to protect its citizens.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, doesn't plan to formally oppose the bills but did mention them in its online blog under a post titled "Stupid Bills: Vol. I."

"A few people are squeamish towards it, asking, 'Are we over-legislating?' " Marr said. "I understand that, but I raise the standard when it comes to health risks to kids."

Yu Nakayama: 360-236-8169 or ynakayama@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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