Smoking in vehicles when children under the age of 18 are present is now illegal in Illinois. It's about time.
On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the new law prohibiting the practice and setting fines for those caught doing so during the course of a traffic stop at $100 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent ones. The prohibition applies whether the vehicle is stopped or moving and even if its windows are open.
Don't be on the lookout for anti-smoking dragnets, however. An officer can't pull you over if he or she sees or suspects a violation. Cops can, however, ticket you if they catch you smoking in front of Junior when they stop you for, say, speeding or expired plates.
Even if the new law gave law enforcement the authority to pull you over solely for illegally smoking, enforcement would be difficult and time-consuming for busy cops. Look, for example, at the mass of people still talking illegally on handheld cellphones while driving.
Our hope is that the ban will emphasize to smoking drivers and adult passengers the dangers presented by secondhand smoke to children who often have no choice about inhaling it. It's also aimed at keeping young people from emulating adults and taking up smoking products themselves.
The hefty fines are also meant to drive the point home by offering financial incentive to put down the cigarette, pipe or cigar before getting in a car with kids.
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Perhaps the best value in the ban is that it provides an opportunity to draw increased attention to the risks secondhand smoke presents to kids. While research specific to children is limited, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids notes there is "overwhelming evidence of the harms associated with secondhand smoke that is specific to children and specific to closed environments."
Such data has led the American Academy of Pediatrics to campaign since 2007 to get states to pass laws to protect children from secondhand smoke exposure by banning smoking in any vehicle with anyone under age 18 in the vehicle. It's not hard to see why.
The academy said exposing children to secondhand smoke is associated with increased rates of lower respiratory illness, middle ear fluid buildup, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome. It also may lead to development of cancer during childhood.
In short, it really is a matter of life and death.
Risking the health and life of your children for our own convenience is morally wrong. Now it's also against the law. Good.