It doesn't make much sense to pass laws that are tough to enforce. But sometimes you just have to send a strong message.
So despite its nanny-state implication, an Erie County law called the the Public Health Protection Act that bans smoking inside cars carrying kids is a good one. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz signed the bill into law Dec. 28. We need to think about making such a law statewide.
In past years, some New York state lawmakers have tried in vain to pass such a law, but the bills never went anywhere. In fact, in 2007, when such a bill was being discussed in Albany, we opposed it, arguing that it would be difficult to enforce. Police have better things to do than ride around town peering into kid-carrying vehicles to see whether Mom or Dad is smoking.
We thought educating people was a better approach and could avoid government interference. It was around the same time that a new public service ad campaign designed to discourage smoking around children was making the rounds, following a U.S. Surgeon General report that said infants and young children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. One ad warned: "When you smoke around your kids, they smoke, too. By the age of 5 they'll have inhaled over 100 packs." We figured that was a pretty powerful message.
But it wasn't powerful enough. While most reasonable people wouldn't think of driving children around in a gas chamber, some lame brains just don't get it. And while we aren't fans of government infringing on our personal rights, sometimes laws - strongly enforced or not - need to be put in place, if for no other reason than to hammer home a message that some people struggle to understand. Like recycling. It's the right thing to do, but despite laws, many don't do it.
In encouraging Erie County to pass the law, a Buffalo News editorial quoted Mark Travers, a research scientist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, who noted that smoking one cigarette in a car can expose passengers to pollutants 10 times worse than those found in bars when smoking was permitted in them. Even with a window rolled halfway down, Travers said, air pollutants breathed in approach hazardous levels as measured by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Besides prohibiting smoking in cars carrying people under 18 years of age, the Erie County law also bans smoking at bus shelters and prohibits pharmacies from selling tobacco products. Drugstores have until the end of February to rid the shelves of tobacco and nicotine products. Those who violate the law will be given warnings for the first three months, before facing fines of $50 or more.
Addiction or not, you'd think that knowing that your nasty habit is doing damage to your child's healthy little pink lungs would be reason enough not to expose them to secondhand smoke. Unfortunately, sometimes good sense goes up in a puff of smoke.
Smoking in cars with kids is banned in eight states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and California. In New York, in addition to Erie County, it’s banned in the city of Schenectady and in Rockland County.
It's time Albany take another look at this and make it a statewide law. At least give law enforcement a weapon to protect kids whose parents or others don't have the sense to do it themselves.
Want help to quit smoking? The Oneida County Health Department and the Mohawk Valley Health System are teaming up to offer a free, three-week series of Freshstart Smoking Cessation classes beginning Wednesday and continuing Jan. 16 and 23 in the AC 1 and 2 Conference Rooms at the St. Luke’s Campus, 1656 Champlin Avenue, Utica. The classes will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The Freshstart approach, created by the American Cancer Society, is geared toward helping participants increase their motivation to quit, learn effective approaches for quitting and guides them in making a successful attempt to stgop smoking. Classes provide essential information, skills for coping with cravings and group support. It's open to all Oneida County residents 18 years and older.
For more information or to register, contact the Oneida County Health Department at 315-798-6400.