Health officials favor Nevada bill to ban smoking in cars with children

CARSON CITY — The documented ill health effects from inhaling secondhand smoke were squared off against individual rights at a hearing Thursday on a bill that would ban smoking in cars while children are present.

Assembly Bill 322 by Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, was supported in the Judiciary Committee hearing by health advocates who argued that children should not be exposed to an adult who is smoking in a confined space such as a vehicle.

Drivers violating the law could be pulled over for the offense by police and fined $25. It would not count as a moving traffic violation.

Sprinkle offered an amendment to his bill to include electronic cigarettes in the prohibition.

Dr. Joseph Iser, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, said seven states and Puerto Rico have enacted similar laws, with Vermont joining the ban in 2014.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, who said he is a smoker, asked why an adult could be labeled a criminal for smoking in a car with a child but not be considered a criminal for doing the same thing in a home.

Iser said concentrations of particulates in a vehicle, particularly if the windows are rolled up on a hot or cold day, are much higher than in a home, where a child may often be in a different room.

Students from area schools testified in support of the bill as well, including Spencer Flanders of Douglas High School, who has worked on the issue for several years, including getting Douglas County to adopt a smoke-free parks policy.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, asked if the proposal is just one step toward banning smoking in homes.

Vanessa Spinazola, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, testified in opposition to the bill, suggesting that as a primary offense such a law would become a pretext for police to initiate traffic stops.

The law could lead to vehicle searches and interrogations for an issue that is not a violation of criminal law, she said.

She also noted that African-Americans are two times more likely to be stopped for primary traffic offenses than other drivers, based on a 2001 Nevada racial profiling study.

At the very least the violation should be a secondary offense, as is seat belt use, where police cannot initiate a traffic stop for a violation, Spinazola said.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Contact Sean Whaley at or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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