By Amber Larkins, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS—Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville is passionate about Marylanders not smoking. She remembers coming to the Senate in 1979 and hiding all of the ashtrays under the radiator.
“I was the laughingstock of everybody, but I made the point,” Forehand said.
Last year, she proposed a ban on smoking in cars with young children, which passed in the Senate, but died in a House committee.
This year, Sen. Robert A. Zirkin is sponsoring legislation that would impose a fine of $50 on anyone caught smoking while driving or riding with children under 8 years old.
“A little kid in a baby seat doesn't have any option but to be there,” said Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mill. “This is an important bill."
During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, advocates from the Maryland Department of Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins University, the Legislative Resource Center and the Maryland Group Against Smokers, spoke in support of the bill.
John O'Hara, founder and president of the Maryland Group Against Smokers, said it's the duty of groups like his, and legislators, to support this kind of bill.
“It's much worse with children,” O'Hara said of secondhand smoke. “It's up to us to protect the people who can't protect themselves.”
But Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist representing the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Wholesalers, described the bill as a “Trojan Horse” on the slippery slope to making tobacco completely illegal.
“Either let adults smoke, or take it away completely,” Bereano said. “The presumption of this bill is that parents don't care about the health of their children.”
A 2006 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that secondhand smoke pollution in cars was higher than in similar studies of bars.
Smoking just half a cigarette in the car can result in pollutant levels up to 10 times the hazardous limit designated by the Environmental Protection Agency, even with the windows down, according to a 2007 Stanford University study.
Four states—California, Washington, Maine and Arkansas—have already banned smoking in cars with minors.
A bill that would ban smoking in a car with children passed the Virginia Senate last month. That bill would charge offenders $100 for smoking while driving with a child under 13.