Students Lobby to Ban Smoking When Kids in Car
A Senate panel agreed Wednesday with a group of Hillsborough County high school students who told them that a ban on smoking in a car while there are children in the vehicle ought to be a law.
The students were participants in Rep. Kevin Ambler’s “Ought to be a Law” program, which allows high students from Tampa-area schools to submit a piece of legislation for a member of the area’s delegation to submit. The sponsor this year, Sen. Victor Crist, said that sometimes the bill ends up being something the lawmakers wouldn’t necessarily have embraced if not for the desire to encourage civil participation in the students, but that was not the case with SB 2596.
But Crist, R-Tampa, left making the case for it to the Senate Transportation Committee to the students.
“Students from various high schools have come together as a team to come up and market this bill through the process and I would like to defer to them,” Crist told the panel.
Delivering a PowerPoint presentation to the panel, the students told lawmakers that similar laws have been enacted in 22 states. The bill, which would take effect Oct. 1 if approved, would allow police to fine drivers stopped for other offenses $100 if they are found to be smoking with minors in the car. The bill calls for a three-month grace period, and would allow police to issue warnings instead of tickets.
“We’re here today representing the rights of young people in Florida and educating the committee on the dangers of second hand smoke in vehicles,” Fadwa Hilili, a student at Tampa Technical High School, told the panel.
Another student, Alexander Mejia, said the bill could add to the state’s beleaguered coffers with fines collected under the bill, though he said the fines would not add up too much.
“Our hope is that through the education programs and the public campaigns that police personnel and our non-profit supporters are offering that fining any driver in the state of Florida will be unnecessary because people will realize the dangers of second hand smoke,” he said.
Aaron Santana of Bloomingdale High School told the committee that the bill was necessary because children are susceptible to second hand smoke than adults, saying “research has shown that adults breathe at a rate of about 12-16 breaths per minutes and children breathe at a rate of 30 to 60 per minute.
“Because of this respiratory rate disparity, children right in the car with a smoker is the equivalent of giving that child four cigarettes themselves,” he concluded.
And another student, Kayla Helton, told lawmakers she was diagnosed with asthma after a summer vacation at age 5 spent with her grandmother, a smoker who drove her around.
“I’m a real life example of what the second hand smoke can do to children,” she said.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the panel applauded the students’ presentation before the committee voted on the bill. Rep. Ambler called their presentation “very cogent and concise” and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said she had been thinking of introducing a similar bill herself.
“For years I’ve had a passion to want to do a bill like that,” Joyner said. “I had some trepidation, and today it’s been transcended by them bringing this forward. This just lets me know that our future is going to be secure because leaders like you will take our place.”
The Transportation Committee unanimously approved the students’ bill. With session half over, however, the bill has also been referred to two other Senate committees, Criminal Justice and Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations.