McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Never before has California banned smoking on private property used exclusively by members of the owner's family — until now.
Beginning this month, motorists can be fined $100 for lighting up a cigarette in their own car, even in their driveway, if one passenger is a child.
The law marks a new frontier in more than two decades of state smoking restrictions that focused on workplaces, public buildings, restaurants, flights, tot lots and gathering spots.
It also comes as cigar-smoking Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is teaming with Democrats to push a proposed ballot measure that would increase cigarette taxes by $1.75 per pack to expand health insurance.
Lawmakers returning to the Capitol this week will consider pushing the state's smoking prohibitions even further.
Sen. Jenny Oropeza, the Long Beach Democrat who proposed California's new vehicle-smoking law to lower children's exposure to dangerous smoke, has already proposed legislation to ban smoking on state-owned beaches or parks.
Statewide, smoking has been falling for more than two decades, to 13 percent of adults now, compared to 25 percent in 1984, state health surveys show.
Audrey Silk, leader of New York-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said opponents nationwide seem determined to price cigarettes out of the market and, for those who won't quit, to expand smoking bans wherever possible.
"It's exploiting children to push their agenda," Silk said of California's new ban. "It's emotion-driven, not science-driven."
Numerous California cities have passed tighter smoking restrictions than those imposed statewide: Belmont has targeted apartments, for example, while Calabasas has taken aim at sidewalks and Roseville, parks.
Silk predicted the same arguments used to pass Oropeza's legislation — health risks to kids confined in a smoky place — will be recycled to fight parents who light up in their own homes.
"This is part of their incrementalism plan," she said.
Other critics say California's new law reflects a disturbing trend to legislate personal behavior in ways ranging from banning soda pop in schools to requiring skateboarders to wear helmets.
"People engage in activities that I adamantly disagree with, all the time, in the comfort and privacy of their homes," said Republican Assemblyman Anthony Adams. "I have no business, as a legislator, interjecting myself into their private lives."
Sen. George Runner, a Republican, said the new vehicle law blurs parental rights in a dangerous way that could spark legislation to limit children's hamburger or french fry consumption, for example, because of health risks from trans fats.
"I've got no problem listening to government's advice on raising my kids — I welcome it," said Republican Sen. Tom McClintock. "But I'll be damned if I'm going to take its orders."
Anti-smoking advocates counter that the state has an obligation to protect kids and always has done so, from barring minors from buying alcohol to forbidding sex offenders from teaching in schools.
Regulating motorists' behavior is nothing new, they note. Drivers already are required to use seatbelts, strap infants into safety seats, and beginning July 1 the state will start enforcing restrictions on using cellular phones in vehicles.
Attorney John Banzhaf, director of Action on Smoking and Health, one of the nation's leading anti-smoking law groups, said California should and probably will prohibit parents in coming years from smoking in homes when kids are present.
Supporters hail the vehicle ban as protecting kids too young to help themselves, but opponents blast it as intruding on property and parental rights — and they suspect that homes will be targeted soon.
"Nobody recommends smoking in the presence of a minor," said Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. "But where is the line between individual responsibility and government force?"
California's new law is the strictest of its kind nationwide because it applies to driving with anyone under age 18, while similar laws in Arkansas and Louisiana seek to protect children under 6 and 13, respectively.
"We thought this was of particular importance because it focused on children in a space that's confined and where they have limited access to leaving," said Alecia Sanchez of the American Cancer Society.
Neither side argues that secondhand smoke is healthy or risk-free, but they disagree over the extent to which opening a car window dissipates the smoke and reduces risk to a child.
The California Air Resources Board classified secondhand smoke as a toxic air contaminant in 2006 because of its potential for causing cancer, heart disease, asthma or other respiratory ills.
Children who spend one hour in a smoke-filled car can be exposed to the same quantity of toxic chemicals as if they had smoked 17 to 35 filter-tipped cigarettes, according to the California Medical Association Foundation.
Californians interviewed last week had mixed views of the new law.
"I think it's fine," said Loretta Holloway, 62. "Children can't voice their opinions and smoke is harmful to them, so why should we smoke in their presence?"
But Freddy Green, 56, said the ban accomplishes little because children of smoking parents will continue to be exposed inside their homes — and targeting the latter would invade privacy.
"It's going to get to the point in California where you can't smoke even in your own private backyard," said Lorena Dorsey, a 52-year-old smoker.
Legislation, court decisions or common practice in many states have restricted smoking in various other residential settings — through child custody orders in divorces, for example, or in prisons and foster homes where taxpayers must pay for health care, Banzhaf said.
"Smoking, like other activities, should be confined to consenting adults in private," Banzhaf said.
But Oropeza said she has no intention of targeting private homes in California.
"This is America, for goodness sake," she said. "I'm not into prohibition."
(c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
Visit The Sacramento Bee online at http://www.sacbee.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.