An interesting debate about freedom is taking place in West Virginia, centering on whether it should be illegal for parents to smoke in closed cars with their children present. Should private citizens have the right to smoke inside their cars with kids present? Is that a freedom, or would it, in a sense, constitute child abuse?
A bill prohibiting smoking or vaping in a car in the presence of children, in fact, passed the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee some five weeks earlier. Senate Bill 81, however, is likely to stall as it moves through the Senate. This has already happened several times. So says Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall. “The personal freedom-type people in my own caucus are opposed to it, and believe you can’t tell a parent what to do,” said Maroney. “So it probably won’t make the agenda on (the Senate Judiciary Committee), and it probably won’t pass the Senate.
The bill states that if there is a minor present (17 years or younger), no one can smoke inside a car. If, however, someone did smoke in the presence of a minor inside a car, it would be considered only a secondary offense. That means that in West Virginia, you couldn’t be pulled over by a cop for smoking in your car with your child present. So what would happen?
You’d be fined $25 and that money would go into a fund to educate West Virginia youth on the dangers of tobacco smoke.
Senator Maroney, by the way, is a physician. He says that he’s going to have to “agree to disagree” with those in his party who say you can’t tell people that they can’t smoke in their cars. “I’m a big personal freedom guy,” says Maroney. “But when your actions affect someone else, and they don’t have control over their environment, it isn’t a personal freedom.”
We’re talking serious second hand smoke here, so let’s come right out and ask the question: is smoking in a closed car with a child present—a young person whose lungs are still developing—a kind of abuse? Especially since the child really has no choice. He can’t forbid the parent from doing this thing that harms his health and quality of life.
Secondhand smoke from cigarettes is particularly dangerous in an enclosed space. That’s why the responsible parent waits until a child is safely out of reach before lighting up. We’re glad West Virginia legislators are at least having a discussion about this “personal freedom versus child safety” issue.