By Amber Larkins for Capital News Service
Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery County, 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. Bobby A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring legislation that would impose a fine of $50 on anyone caught driving or riding with children under 8.
“A little kid in a baby seat doesn't have any option but to be there,” Zirkin said. “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.
“Its much worse with children,” said O'Hara of secondhand smoke. “It's up to us to protect the people who can't protect themselves.”
But Bruce Bereano of 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.”
The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study in 2006 that 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 study by Stanford University.
Four other states--California, Washington, Maine and Arkansas--have already banned smoking in cars with minors.
A bill that would ban smoking while in a car with children passed in the Virginia Senate a week ago. That bill would charge offenders $100 for smoking while driving with a child under 13.