COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's prohibitions on smoking would extend to cars with children younger than 6 on board, under an Ohio Senate bill that backers say would safeguard youngsters from the dangers of secondhand smoke and is similar to bans elsewhere.
"An infant or minor who is a passenger in a car is not making the decision to smoke. However, they can potentially suffer significant consequences," Sen. Charleta Tavares told a Senate committee. The bill sponsored by the Columbus Democrat calls for fines starting at $500 for violators caught lighting up in a vehicle with young children present, The (Youngstown) Vindicator reported.
Ohio bans smoking in most indoor public places through a law that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2006 and took effect the following year. Smoking in vehicles while children are passengers has been outlawed in Canada and Australia, and in other states including Louisiana, Maine and California. Under California's ban, the children may be as old as 17.
Sen. Tom Patton, the chairman of the Highways and Transportation Committee, signaled support for the concept during Wednesday's first hearing on Tavares' bill. But he questioned the 6-year-old cutoff.
"The difficulty in being able to determine whether a child is 6 versus 7 or 9," Patton said, according to WBNS-TV. "And how often do people get pulled over? And would they have to provide birth certificates or proof that a child is over 6?"
Another Republican, Sen. Frank LaRose of Fairlawn, warned that critics would be likely to say the proposal infringes on personal liberty.
"A car represents freedom, and what I do in my car is my own freedom," LaRose said. "But I think there's also a really important point to make in that your freedom to act ends when it impacts another's health, particularly an innocent young child."
That concern resonates with Christina Greenlee. The smoker and mother of four told the Columbus television station she has already made her car a smoke-free zone.
"I choose not to smoke in front of them because of their health," Greenlee said. "They say second-hand smoke is the worst thing."