Under the terms a bill sponsored by Illinois state senator Mike Boland, people who smoke in a car with children under 9 years old present would be guilty of a state crime - a misdemenaor - and would be subject to up to a $1,500 fine and a month in prison (see Chicago Tribune article).
According to the article: "Illinois could join the short list of states that bar people from smoking in cars when children are present, under legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Boland. Boland wants to make it a misdemeanor to smoke in a car if any of the passengers are 8 or younger. Violators could be slapped with a $1,500 fine and a month in jail. The Moline Democrat said he was inspired when he walked past a car filled with a cloud of smoke from the driver's cigarette. 'I saw some little heads in their little car seats and thought 'Gee, that's really awful,'' Boland said."
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I agree. That is really awful. But is it worth sending a parent to jail for a month to teach them a lesson about what the state thinks they should be doing to protect the health of their kids? In what possible way does it help the child to have their parent removed from them for a month? I can hardly think of a more damaging thing for a child - and that includes exposure to secondhand smoke.
Do we really want to make criminals out of parents who, for one thing, might not know that secondhand smoke is hazardous for their children? Or even if they do know that, should it make a parent a criminal if he or she makes a reasoned decision that the risk of ear or upper respiratory infection from secondhand smoke is not enough to outweigh their own desire to smoke, or the need for them to avoid withdrawal symptoms from nicotine dependence? Or if they judge that with the windows open and moving fast on a highway, the smoke will not accumulate substantially in the car?
Moreover, if parents who smoke in a car are criminals, then aren't parents who serve their children alcohol also criminals? Or parents who take their kids to fast food restaurants five nights a week? Or parents who let their kids eat fluff? Or parents who allow their kids to go skiing without wearing a helmet? Or parents who don't put up a secure safety gate at the top of a staircase in their home? Or parents who don't check the batteries of their smoke detectors every six months?
Perhaps we should just open up a special wing of our prisons for all the parents who expose their children to health risks.
I can see it now:
What are you in for?
I let my kid go rollerblading and he wasn't wearing a helmet and wrist guards. He had a concussion and had to be hospitalized overnight. Plus, he broke his wrist.
How about you?
I didn't realize my kid needed sunscreen even though it's only May. He was out for a few hours and got a pretty bad sunburn. Hey - looks like they're putting that guy in the slammer. Hey, what are you in for?
I smoked in a car with my seven year-old.
Were the windows open?
Were you going fast?
Well what happened to your kid? Is he sick? Was he hospitalized?
No, he's absolutely fine. I'm just here because the police said there was a chance he might get an ear infection from the smoke in the car.