Smoking ban set to protect kids under 14

Some say enforcing law in cars could be difficult

Posted: April 23, 2011 at 5:46 a.m.

— Health advocates are praising a new law that will raise the age of children protected from smoking in cars to just under 14, but others wonder how easily the law will be enforced.

Come July 27, Act 811 of 2011 will ban smoking in motor vehicles where a child “less than 14” is a passenger.

Enacted during the recent legislative session and signed into law March 30 by Gov. Mike Beebe, the act amends Act 13 of 2006, which prohibits smoking invehicles when a child under age 6 and weighing less than 60 pounds is restrained in a child-safety seat.

“The previous law only protected 43 percent of the kids in the state,” said Tyler B. Clark with the Northwest Arkansas Tobacco Free Coalition, which helped push to raise the age. “The new law protects 73 to 74 percent of kids.”

A spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health, Ed Barham, said the new law and the old one it amends help raise awarenessof the dangers smoke poses to children and allow adults to be “more responsive to the issue.”

“There is no safe level of secondhand smoke, but especially for small children,” he said. “As they grow and develop, their bodies are especially sensitive.”

The list of illnesses includes asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and allergy problems, Barham said.

As with the law it updates, violating Act 811 is a primary offense, which means law enforcement can pull a driver over for suspected non-compliance as opposed to a secondary offense, in which they must have another reason to stop the driver first, such as speeding.

Both versions of the law also contain a provision in which the $25 traffic fine can be waived for a first offender if the person shows proof of entering a quit-smoking program.

Act 13, also called the Arkansas Protection from Secondhand Smoke For Children Act, came out of House Bill 1046 and first went into effect July 21, 2006, according to the Health Department.

Doug Norwood, a lawyer in Rogers who devotes his practice to criminal and traffic cases, said he wonders how well the new law will be enforced.

It might not be feasible for police to devote their time and resources to a violation that results in only a $25 ticket, he said, just as they often don’t pull people over for not wearing a seat belt.

“They can’t stop everybody that’s speeding, much less do this kind of work,” Norwood said. “A lot of people will never know this law is on the books till the police stop them.”

But Norwood did say the new law has the potential for more enforcement than the one targeted to car-seat passengers.

“I talked to the lawyers inour firm: We have never seen anyone stopped under the old ordinance,” he said.

“With new cases, I think more people will be stopped for it,” Norwood said. “A lot of times, with a little kid in a car seat, you can’t always see them like you can a kid who’s 12 or 13 years old.”

Jeff Harper, city attorney for Springdale, said police officers there received training to enforce the child safety act, and he believes they deem it a worthy law.

The problem is, detecting both smoking and the presence of an underage child simultaneously in a moving car is much more difficult than some other traffic violations.

“A seat belt is easy to see,” Harper said, adding that unbuckled seat belts as a primary offense tends to produce more tickets in his city than Act 13 has.

In 2010, five tickets were issued for smoking in cars with young children as passengers and there’s been just one so far this year, Harper said. None of the six was contested, with all pleading guilty and paying the fine.

“I’ve never heard of anybody doing that,” Harper said of the smoking-cessation program in lieu of the $25 ticket option.

State Sen. Percy Malone, DArkadelphia, sponsor of Senate Bill 1004 which became Act 811, said it took just one constituent to convince him to push to protect older children.

The constituent happened to be a nursing student who’d studied and worked in Arkansas Children’s Hospital, he said.

“She sent me an e-mail asking if I would attempt to raise the age limit for children smoking in a car,” Malone said. He filed it in a folder, but didn’t forget it. “That was the genesis of it.”

Estimates were that the change would protect 272,000 more Arkansas children, said Malone, who added he’s also supported laws making restaurants, hospitals and university campuses smoke-free.

Northwest Arkansas, Pages 8 on 04/23/2011