MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to ban smoking tobacco and using vaping products in vehicles when children younger than 14 are present. But as the bill moves to the Senate, some lawmakers are concerned about policing people’s actions within their property.
The House last week approved House Bill 46, by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, in a 78-19 vote. It was amended to add the vaping prohibition and to say that smoking or vaping with children in the car is a secondary violation, not a primary reason a driver can be pulled over.
The violation comes with a fine not to exceed $100.
Hollis told Alabama Daily News she drafted the bill after riding in a vehicle with her husband while he smoked.
“I could barely breathe and I told him that we should change that,” Hollis said. “Secondhand smoke is so harmful to kids and we want to prevent that from happening any more than it needs to.”
Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, voted against the bill and said he has concerns about government overreach.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to invade the privacy of your car and tell you what you can and can’t do in your car,” Sorrell said.
“The bill did nothing to address whether or not you could smoke in the home,” Sorrell said. “That also seemed kind of inconsistent, but I just don’t think we need the government regulating every single thing in our life.”
Those in support of the bill say it would improve child safety.
“I think it’s a good bill,” Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, said. “Children do not need smoke in their lungs.”
Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, said he would support the bill when it comes to the Senate floor.
“I’m for that,” he said. “Anytime a child doesn’t have the opportunity to make their own decisions and the parents have the windows rolled up with any type of vape smoke, cigarette smoke in the car, I think it’s bad for you.”
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said he needs to review the bill.
“I think that secondhand smoke is serious, but I think we’ve got to kind of balance between the parent and the situation as it relates to the child and the limitations,” Smitherman said.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, supported Hollis’ bill and said minors need to be protected from secondhand smoke.
“There’s no doubt about the fact that secondhand smoke is harmful and you’ve got children who are not old enough to make those decisions,” McCutcheon said. “They are depending on the people who are taking care of them to make good decisions for their health and future, and sometimes, people won’t do that, so because of that I think the bill had merit to it.”
Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, said he does not believe the bill “hurts anything or anyone.”
“It basically gives the rights to the children to not be exposed to secondhand smoke,” McCampbell.
Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, said he believes smoking with children in the car should be a private issue.
“It’s a valid piece and it’s one that I think the general public and others will understand how critical it is for our children to be not exposed to secondhand smoke”, Allen said. “I think it’s a private issue that needs to be addressed by parents rather than by the government.”
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, severe asthma and reduced lung function.
Hollis’ bill now goes to the Senate Health Committee. Chairman Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said he doesn’t know when the bill will be on the committee’s agenda because he hasn’t yet heard from Hollis about whether she’s gotten the needed support from committee members.
Bill Would Ban Vaping in ‘No Smoking’ Areas
Another vaping-related piece of legislation is House Bill 104, which would prohibit vaping in any place where smoking is banned. The proposed Alabama Clean Indoor Air Act, prohibits smoking in certain places, authorizes employers to designate “no smoking” and “smoking” areas and establishes penalties.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield. A committee meeting where the bill was on the agenda was canceled Wednesday.
The vaping industry is against the bill, saying it would hurt their businesses and suggesting that vaping is not as harmful as cigarettes and other tobacco products.
According to the Vapor Technology Association, Alabama’s vaping industry generated more than $319 million in economic activity and created 1,182 direct vaping-related jobs in 2018.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5.4 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019.