Erie Co. proposal would ban smoking in cars with kids present

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke (7th District) teamed up with Tobacco-Free Western New York and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Tuesday morning to announce proposed legislation to ban smoking in a vehicle when children are passengers.

Cigarette smoke is known to contain many toxic compounds, which can cause cancer and other serious medical issues. Burke says children should not be exposed to second-hand or third-hand smoke in the confined spaces of vehicles. “In 2018, this type of legislation shouldn’t even be necessary, but it is,” he said.

Burke is hoping other Erie County legislators agree with him. If all goes according to his plans, this proposed smoking ban could be voted on in the legislature within the next three to five weeks.

Similar bans are already in place in the city of Schenectady and in Rockland County here in New York State. States like California and Arkansas have also banned smoking in cars with children, as have a handful of other countries.

Advocates in Erie County say that sort of ban is needed here.

“We recognize and advocate for all steps forward in combating second-hand smoke exposure, a dangerous killer which threatens the health of our most vulnerable citizens, our children,” said Anthony Billoni, Director of Tobacco-Free Western New York.

“Children breathe more rapidly, they absorb more pollutants, have less developed immune systems and more vulnerable to cellular mutations making them more susceptible to the health effects of tobacco smoke pollution,” explained Mark Travers, PhD, MS, a research scientist in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park.

Dr. Travers says his research has found that in the confined spaces of vehicles, even when there’s ventilation, cigarette smoke leaves behind extremely high levels of toxic compounds, even more so than in bars, when smoking was allowed there.

Even so, this kind of proposed legislation does raise questions about personal liberties. Some may ask whether we can really dictate people’s behavior in their privately-owned vehicles. Burke says we have to.

“I would say it’s matter of public health, and those children certainly have the right to a future and the right to breathe clean healthy air,” he said, “and someone’s habit should not force carcinogens and pollutants in a child’s lungs.”

Burke concedes children should also have that right in their own homes, and said he debated the scope of his proposed legislation. But, he says he concluded that, at least in a home, children have a better ability to walk away from whomever is smoking.

“I chose the car because it’s such a compact place and there’s no getting away from it,” he said.

If Burke’s proposed legislation passes, violators could be fined $150 for a first offense.

Burke says there will be a community discussion and public hearing in a couple weeks.