by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — As California State health officials commemorated on Thursday, January 3 the ten-year anniversary of smoke-free bars, they also announced the immediate implementation of a new smoking ban. The “Smoke-free Cars with Minors” law, authored by Senator Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), prohibits smoking in a motor vehicle when a minor (17 years old and under) is present. A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $100.
“Our efforts to address the dangers of second-hand smoke in California began over a decade ago,” said Kimberly Belshe, Secretary of Health and Human Services Agency. “Today, our State continues to be a leader by ensuring that children and youth traveling in cars are not exposed to secondhand smoke in cars.”
She said that this law is no different from other safety laws enacted by California in the past, such as the law requiring children to be in car seats, the seatbelts law, and a law that prohibits people from sitting in the back of open-bed trucks.
“I am very delighted to be a part of this effort to provide education to the public about this important law,” said Senator Oropeza. “Our own children are the most vulnerable group that is subjected to secondhand smoke.”
The new law applies not just to parents. “Every smoker in a car with a minor can be cited,” Oropeza said.
The citation is given as a secondary offense. A motorist can not be pulled over strictly for smoking. A citation for violating the new law is given when the officer observes that the person is smoking when pulled over for traffic or other violations. “The main objective is not to collect fines but to get people to stop smoking in the car with their kids or other people’s kids,” Oropeza explained.
“Infants and children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” said Dr. Mark Horton, Director of California Department of Public Health.
To prove their point, Dr. Neil E. Klepeis, an environmental health scientist and consulting assistant professor at Stanford University, set up a demonstration during which pollution levels were measured by electronic equipment set up inside a car. A volunteer cigarette smoker then lighted up and puffed, while electronic devices measured pollutant levels in the car with the windows closed. At one point, the amount of particulate matter in the car reached over 6,000 micrograms.
“That’s an extremely high level of particulate matter in a car,” said Dr.Klepeis. “That is about 30 times the hazardous levels set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).” He noted that in the back seat, the accumulation of particulate matter took a little longer, but it reached about ten times higher than the level set by the EPA.
“With the windows (of the car) open, the levels did not go up as high, but the levels were still 10 to 20 times the EPA limit. “So the child in the back seat still is exposed to the high level of particulate matter,” Dr. Klepeis noted. He said that smoke could stay in the car for at least 30 minutes to two hours.
The State’s leadership and commitment to protecting residents from second-hand smoke began in 1994 with the passage of the California’s Law for a Smoke-free Workplace. The smoke-free bar provision of this law took effect in January 1998. “People should not choose between their health and their jobs,” commented Secretary Belshe’.
California’s public health policies are major contributing factors to the State’s low smoking rates. This state also has the lowest cigarette consumption per capita in the US and serves as a model for other States and countries.