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New Law Would Ban Smoking in Cars with Minors

November 28, 2017, 12:06 PM HST · Updated November 28, 12:06 PM
Nikki Schenfeld · 0 Comments
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A bill that would make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle with a minor present will be reintroduced in a special Maui County Council committee meeting on Jan. 5, 2018.

Maui is the only county in the state that has not enforced such legislation. Last month, Oʻahu passed Bill 70 making it illegal to smoke in a vehicle with someone under 18 inside.  This includes the use of electronic cigarettes. The islands of Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi banned the practice in 2010 and 2016, respectively.

In an Ask the Mayor article in November, shortly after Oʻahu passed the bill, a Maui resident asked if similar legislation had been considered for Maui County.

“Similar legislation has not yet been considered in Maui County,” Mayor Alan Arakawa responded. “The Honolulu City legislation would not affect us here in Maui County; however, if the State Legislature passes an amendment to state law, then it would also be effective here.

A few bills addressing this issue were raised during session, but they died in committee. “You may want to speak to your respective state Representative, Senator or county council member about your support for this legislation,” the Mayor concluded.

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    Sign waving in Kahului in support of a bill that would ban smoking in cars with minors present. PC: Marlo Antes

    Sign waving in Kahului. PC: Marlo Antes

    Katie Folio, community coordinator for the Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i. PC: Marlo Antes

    Councilwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura, who holds the County Council seat for the Upcountry area, introduced the bill in September at a policy committee hearing but it was deferred by council members due to privacy concerns.

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    “Some of the things people think—of course—is that your car is your private space, so it would be an overreach of government to try and tell you what to do in your car,” Councilwoman Sugimura said at a sign waving in Kahului on Nov. 16.

    She added that the bill was deferred so council members could have more discussion regarding the legislation.

    Katie Folio, community coordinator for the Maui, Moloka‘i and Lānaʻi Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i says the bill is not a ban on smoking in a vehicle, and that it only applies when children are present. “Folks can smoke all they want in their own vehicles when there are no children present,” she said. “This law is to protect kids who don’t have a voice when they are stuck in those situations.”

    Councilwoman Sugimura says she’s behind the bill not only because of health reasons, but because it was selected by the kids.

    “The kids decided on their own—through their coalition— what their top priority was and they decided to choose smoke free cars,” she said. “The reason I’m interested is because the kids made a commitment to do this and they would market the idea and they would promote it,” she added.

    According to the Hawai‘i Department of Health website, tobacco smoke contains a deadly mixture of more than 7,000 chemicals, many which are toxic. About 70 of these chemicals can cause cancer, according to the published information. The website states the following:

    • Passengers in a smoke-filled car can be exposed to concentrations of toxins 23 times greater than that found in a smoky bar.
    • A 2008 study examining second hand smoke exposure in cars found that its severity reached unhealthy levels even under varying ventilation conditions.
    • In 2011 nearly a third (27.4%) of Hawai‘i high school students reported being exposed to SHS in a car in the past week.

    The DOH website also states that SHS causes the following in children:

    • Ear infections
    • More frequent and severe asthma attacks
    • Respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath)
    • Respiratory infections (i.e., bronchitis, pneumonia)
    • A greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome

    Members of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi say that smoke-free cars for keiki is a public health and safety issue, and the government has the ability and responsibility to create laws that protect minors from activities that cause harm.

    During the Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture committee hearing in September, other council members questioned the connection between public safety and smoking. Coalition members say there has been some research that connects smoking cigarettes and/or vaping and traffic safety. Examples included the process of lighting and smoking a cigarette as being a visual, cognitive, and manual distraction while driving.

    The National Institutes of Health published a report that smoking while driving can be an even greater distraction than using a cell phone. Cigarette smoking averaged 12 seconds of distraction while driving, or about 525 feet of travel without looking at the road, posing great hazards to other vehicles and pedestrians.

    The Councilwoman said a state bill was introduced last year at the legislature but it did not survive.

    “One of the reasons we probably want to have a State bill is because there’s different levels of fines,” she said. “Ours (Maui County) is minimal like $25 dollars.” On Oʻahu, if caught smoking in a car with a minor present, the violation is $100 for the first offence, $200 for the second offence and $500 for third offence within a one-year period.

    Councilwoman Sugimura added that she spoke with Maui police about enforcement.  “If they pull you over for speeding and you’re smoking and there’s a minor in your car, then it’s an additional violation,” she added.

    Maui Police also stated that the ordinance would not be enforced on any private roadways or properties, according to Sugimura.

    Also at the sign waving was Caelyn Taibemal, 13, from Kahului. She said she has family members who smoke and she doesn’t like being around them (when smoking) because the smoke hurts her chest. “I don’t think it’s right to have smoking in a car because it can affect us in negative ways and it’s not good, it doesn’t benefit you in any way and its addictive and it really hurts others around you as well,” she said.

    “We love our kids, we do everything for them because we want their lives to be better—so why not create safe and healthy environments?” Sugimura added. “That’s truly my commitment to them.”

    Sugimura said the next hearing will be on Jan. 5, 2018, at a different time than usual meetings so kids can attend and testify.

    Nikki Schenfeld
    Nikki joined the Maui Now team in 2016 as a writer/reporter. Originally from Chicago, she has had internships with CBS2 Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago where she had the opportunity to interview some of Chicago's best athletes. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism. She moved to Maui in 2013.
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