Maine Bans Smoking While Driving with Youths

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Smoking and driving

Smoking and driving in California, another state that has considered various bans on smoking. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The state of Maine last week passed one of the most restrictive smoking bans in the country. Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, who drove the push to regulate smoking in cars, says that while Maine's is not the first law of its kind, it goes further than any other effort to curb children's exposure to secondhand smoke.

"In a car, they're strapped in and there's no escape," Shenkin says. That is no longer the case for children in Maine, where police can now stop drivers who are smoking in a vehicle where passengers younger than 16 are present. For the first year, the penalty is a warning, but thereafter, smokers ferrying children face a $50 fine.

Shenkin, a pediatric dentist and a professor of health policy at Boston University's school of dentistry, says experiences at his clinic raised his concern. Four or five times a day, he says, it was evident which patients had parents who smoked. "They just reeked of smoke, as if they had been smoking themselves."

Shenkin says he first learned how much children are exposed to secondhand smoke from a 2006 report. That study showed the trends of exposure and concluded that during the past 20 years, the U.S. population as a whole had seen a decline of 75 percent, he says — but children had seen the lowest reduction. He also says that overall, children had even higher levels of nicotine in their blood than teenagers and adults.

Children are most vulnerable when they're strapped into a smoke-filled car, Shenkin says. According to a Harvard University study that Shenkin cites, secondhand smoke is present at far higher levels in a car than in a bar or restaurant that permits smoking.

Whether Maine's new smoking ban will lead to similar regulation for other private spaces is beside the point, Shenkin says. In a car, he says, "You can actually have secondhand smoke levels that can be 12 to 15 times higher than in a home ... [where kids] can just walk out and go to the bedroom."

Maine's new legislation wasn't a big hit with the state's smokers, Shenkin says, but even some anti-smoking groups were initially at odds. He says he was surprised by the push-back. "But the great news is that children won in Maine."



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