Lawmakers disagree over fine for smoking in car with kids

January 27, 2022 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two West Virginia state senators disagreed Thursday over whether penalizing adults for smoking with children in the car would be a violation of “parental rights.”

Senate Bill 139 would make it a misdemeanor to smoke in the car with a child under 16 present. The violation would be punishable by up to a $25 fine.

The violation would be a secondary offense, meaning people could not be pulled over just for smoking in the car with children. Instead, it would be something that could be tacked on if a person was already being pulled over for something else.

Republican Sen. Tom Takubo, a Charleston lung doctor, is the bill’s sponsor. During a Senate Health and Human Resources Committee meeting Thursday, he said the bill was inspired by a patient who was not a smoker, but lost half of her lung function. Her father was a heavy smoker, Takubo said.

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“I promised her that I will always fight to try to look at this,” he said. Takubo has introduced similar legislation during past sessions.

The bill passed the Health and Human Resources Committee Thursday, and will now go on to review by the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Mike Azinger opposed the bill and said that even though he doesn’t smoke, he thinks parents should have the right to smoke in the car with their kids if they want to.

“This is just a bad bill,” he said. “I don’t care what folks think about cigarettes and all that, but this is a violation of parental rights. I have a God-given right to be sovereign over my children — I’m their authority, my wife and I.”

Azinger said he views the bill similarly to the way he views a West Virginia law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets — he said it’s a violation of personal freedom.

Takubo said he also believes in parental freedom, but that a child’s freedom is just as important.

“My freedom has to stop once it bleeds over onto your freedom,” he said.

If a parent is making a bad decision that is harming the heath of a child, it is incumbent upon legislators to take that into account, he said.

“Listen, we’re not saying that the parent can’t smoke. You just can’t trap the child in a confined space and force them to breathe that,” he continued.