Ban smoking in private vehicles?

By Scott Tibbs, October 3, 2007

Right off the bat, I apologize for the lack of names in this post. I do not know the names of the people on the Board of Health.

I attended the Monroe County Board of Health meeting last night, where the board considered making a recommendation in favor of an ordinance that would ban smoking in automobiles if a child is in the automobile. One board member said she talked to the police, County Commissioners, and the city. She claimed no one is opposed to it, but there are questions on how it would be enforced.

The discussion of specifics was rather interesting. One suggestion was that parents caught smoking could have a fine waived if he or she attended a smoking education class. Another board member agreed with this statement, noting that one benefit of this law will be education. Many people do not know how much particulate matter is put into the air by smoking cigarettes. Whatever one thinks about the proposed law, more education on smoking would certainly be a good thing.

It will be interesting to see how a new vehicle smoking ordinance would be enforced. One of the biggest complaints many people have about the seat belt law is the "roadblocks" police have used in the past to catch offenders. I've driven through one of these on the corner of Walnut and College, where traffic was limited to one lane and slowed down so police could check for safety belts. Even though I always wear my seat belt, I felt violated going through this checkpoint.

A board member said "It would be nice if everyone behaved well, then we could all be libertarians." Isn't the essence of libertarianism the right to do as one pleases with minimal interference from government, and taking the responsibility for the choices you make? No one is advocating anarchy. The question is how far the government should go in policing our lives. Should government ban the use of a legal substance in one's private vehicle?

While the Board of Health briefly considered recommending that smoking be banned in vehicles with anyone under 18 years of age, ultimately the motion was to suggest the County Commissioners consider banning smoking in a vehicle with a child 13 years of age and under, with the penalty being the same as a seat belt violation. It would be more difficult to enforce than a seat belt law because it is not as easy to see.

It is unfortunate that the City Council will not consider expanding the smoking ban to private vehicles until after the election. I find it very dishonest to put off a politically volatile vote until after the voters have a chance to hold City Councilors accountable, especially on an issue that is a significant expansion of existing law and will directly impact the lives of many people in this community. If there are City Councilors who support this law, I urge them to publicly say so in the month leading up to the election, so the people know where they stand prior to casting their votes.