Big Island bill to ban smoking while kids are in car advances
By Jason Armstrong
HILO — A bill that would outlaw smoking in any motorized vehicle occupied by a child or young adult was advanced yesterday by a 6-3 vote of a Hawaii County Council committee.
The Human Services and Economic Development Committee's supportive recommendation sends Bill 216 to the full council for the first of two votes required for its passage.
If approved as law, the ban would take effect 90 days later.
Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason, the bill's author and a former smoker, said some people have been unfairly critical of her proposal.
"If this will take me down, I still going to stand my ground," said Naeole-Beason, who is up for re-election in September.
"I believe I am the voice of the children of these islands," she added.
According to the bill, the ban would be triggered anytime someone under the age of 18 is riding in a car or other motor vehicle. That could be a parent taking a baby to the doctor, a coach driving players to a game, or even a group of teens out cruising by themselves.
Opponents feel that would infringe on personal freedoms.
"I can't imagine what we're going to bring up next," Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong said.
Believing the bill is an attempt to "legislate common sense," Yagong voted against it even though his father is a cancer victim.
"Cigarettes took his life," Yagong said.
The bill also drew opposition from Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi.
The law won't stop people from smoking in a car while transporting kids, Ikeda suggested. Onishi said it's better to inform adults that they shouldn't smoke near children.
"I think we just need to have more education at the lower level, at the schools," Onishi said.
They were outnumbered, however, by supporters of the ban.
"There's just no excuse to subject our children to our drug of choice, whatever that may be," South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said in voting for the measure.
An asthmatic, Ford said breathing her father's second-hand smoke while riding in the family car caused her to suffer childhood nausea. The proposed ban is no different than current prohibitions on driving with a hand-held cell phone or without wearing a seat belt, Kau Councilman Guy Enriques said.
The bill drew support from nearly every one of the handful of people who testified before lawmakers Tuesday.
"This bill is not about freedom. It's about the health of our children," said Mike Dominguez, a self-described smoker and parent.
"It's a consciousness thing," he added. "It gives kids a voice."
The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii and the American Cancer Society both urged passage of the bill. Representatives cited the danger second-hand smoke poses to kids, especially when confined inside a car or truck.
Opposing the bill was Clifford Souza, a smoker and staunch opponent of past tobacco bans.
"It infringes on freedoms as adults to make the decision of what we should be doing," Souza said.
But backer Toni Robert said it's important to protect kids' air space, particularly on an island where the air quality is already "messed up."
"I'm crazy enough to say I don't want my pets subjected to it," she said of second-hand smoke.