Bangor Targets Smoking with Children in Car

Smokers in Bangor, Maine, will soon face a fine if they light up with children in the car. The community is divided over the new city ordinance, but some parents who smoke are all for it.

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In Bangor, Maine, the city council has made it illegal to smoke in the car while children are in the vehicle. Health advocates argue that while adults passengers may find other ways of getting around, children often don't have a choice. Louisiana and Arkansas already have similar statewide bans and some Maine doctors are hoping Bangor will lead the way to a statewide ban.

Sara Nics of member station Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

SARA NICS: Beginning tomorrow, if you light up in a car with anyone under the age of 18, police in Bangor, Maine, can pull you over and hit you with a $50 fine. But Bangor's Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno says officers aren't likely to hand out many tickets, yet.

Deputy Chief PETER ARNO (Bangor Police Department): I think initially our efforts are going to be focused around education about the ordinance.

NICS: The new rule makes it a primary offense to smoke in a car when there are children present. That means officers don't need any other grounds to a pull vehicle over.

Standing behind the counter at the Herbal Tea and Tobacco smoke shop in downtown Bangor, Ben Misho(ph) sells everything from imported pipe tobacco to American spirits. Misho says he thinks the police shouldn't be able to pull people over just for smoking.

Mr. BEN MISHO (Employee, Herbal Tea and Tobacco): Of course, if the person is pulled over for an actual traffic violation and then it's found that they're just sitting there smoking with, like, their child in the car, well, yes. I mean, I guess that is, you know, legit.

NICS: Up at the Bangor Mall, Jeff Chambers(ph) is pushing his two sons along in a double-decker stroller. He says although he is a smoker, he thinks the ordinance is a good idea.

Mr. JEFF CHAMBERS: My oldest son is 18 months. My youngest is five months, both two healthy little boys and I don't smoke in the vehicle with them.

NICS: Chambers says he doesn't smoke in his house with his children either. But Bangor Mayor Richard Greene says not all smokers are so supportive of the new ordinance. He says he received a slew of e-mails the day after the city council passed the new rule.

Mayor RICHARD GREENE (Bangor, Maine): Thirty percent of those were good for you Bangor, take the high road. The remaining ones were less than enthusiastic about it. You know, if we take away smoking in cars with children, you know, will homes come next, et cetera, et cetera.

NICS: But the health advocates who spoke at the city council meeting say among non-smokers, children are the most exposed to second-hand smoke, which is particularly harmful to them as they grow.

Peter Millard is a family doctor in Bangor.

Dr. PETER MILLARD (Bangor, Maine): Being in a car is, I mean, about as bad as you can get in terms of the proximity to the smoker and the concentration of tobacco smoke in the space.

NICS: More than anything, Millard says he hopes the ordinance will help educate people about how dangerous second-hand smoke is to children in cars and elsewhere. Legislators in Maine will consider a statewide ban on smoking in cars where children are present sometime this winter.

For NPR News, I'm Sara Nics in Bangor, Maine.

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