01 January 2014

Oregon Passes a Smoke-Free Car Law, and Now I Want to Move There Even More

Since we made a visit to Seattle and British Columbia back in 2010, we have been building a dream of living in the Pacific Northwest. And after we had our daughter the next year, we began outlining a plan to move our jobs out that way. So we narrowed the search down to a few major cities in the Northwest, most of them being in Oregon. We were drawn to the state's culture and climate, and we have been trying our luck in their job market.

Who wouldn't love it there? Oregon is rich in natural wonders and national parks. Stay west of the mountains, and you don't experience harsh winters (a plus for us Southerners who see snow once every 3 years). And talk about progressive? From pedestrian-friendly communities to city composting plans to cloth diaper services, I know I'd settle in comfortably.

But it's their latest law that has me wanting to pack our suitcases because they just "get it." Starting today, 1 January 2014, they are banning smoking in cars if there is a child present.

And they consider children to be anyone under the age of 18.

If you have ever had this conversation with me, you know how strongly I feel about smoking in front of children. It is straight up child abuse.

You read that right. Smoking in front of children--or while pregnant--is abuse.

I will throw myself on my soapbox over quite a few topics. Driving while under the influence. Texting while driving. Education reform. People who treat service providers like shit.

Bring up child abuse, and I will almost certainly lead the dialogue to how adults who expose children to second-hand smoke should be just as guilty of abuse as those who starve, beat, or neglect children.

Why do I step up on my soapbox over this issue? People will argue the topic of breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding their babies until they are blue in the face. I myself experienced strangers (and friends) who bluntly asked me why I quit breastfeeding my child. It was as if they heard "arsenic cocktails" instead of "baby formula" come out of my mouth. But how many strangers walk up to a parent who is smoking in the presence of a child and swat the cigarette out of their hand?

Hear me on this, please. If you smoke, fine. Your choice. Your body. Your way of spending your extra money. Hell, several years ago, I enjoyed a rather large cigar bought for me as a college graduation gift, so I'm not going to force a stack of Chantix brochures on you.

But your child didn't slide down the birth canal screaming for a pack of Marlboros or a strawberry-flavored Swisher Sweet.

Your habit, not your child's.

As a teacher, I experience it all the time. A parent drops of their child in the car rider line and doesn't bother to remove her cigarette from her lips to kiss her child goodbye. A visitor sits in the parking lot to check their GPS and takes a drag with the window open while a class plays on the monkey bars 20 feet away. A student comes to check in daily homework at my desk, smelling like an ashtray.

Just a couple of years ago, I went to court to testify for a student when they were being sexually abused by a family member. The law was clear: it was my duty to report the matter and my responsibility to protect the student from the possibility of future physical and emotional injury.

If I was called to testify for a student who was undeniably being exposed to second-hand smoke, I'd be in a courtroom as often as I am in my classroom.

So it really has me wondering why there aren't penalties or fines for adults who engage in this conduct, especially in small spaces where kids aren't able to access clean air, like inside a car.

According to this new law in Oregon, the penalty for being caught smoking in a car with a child present is a fine of up to $250.

Between the daily health reports, the Surgeon General warnings on cigarette packs, the banning of smoking in restaurants, and the removal of tobacco ads from TV and magazines, you really can't miss the dangers of second-hand smoking. It increases the risk of asthma, SIDS, low birth rate, and respiratory problems. There's also the risk of decreasing a child's cognitive function.

Like children don't have enough to worry about.

And despite the efforts to reform smoking laws, the negative effects of second-hand smoke still looms. According to research from the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights:
...levels of secondhand smoke exposure declined between 1988-1994 and 1999-2004 in the general population overall, children were the sub-group with the least rate of decline.
Do you know why this happens? Because when I'm in the car with an adult who is fingering a cigarette, they have almost always have enough consideration to ask, "Do you mind?" But an adult craves a cigarette when their own child is snugly latched in their carseat, and there's no asking. A window might get cracked to tap out the ashes, but it's not enough:
Children are especially at risk to the harmful health e ffects caused by breathing secondhand smoke in con ned spaces, such as a car or truck. The level of toxic air in a vehicle when someone is smoking is up to ten times greater than the level which the United States Environmental Protection Agency considers hazardous. The harmful chemicals in secondhand smoke can remain in the air and on surfaces in a car or truck for many hours, and even days, after a cigarette has been smoked. These chemicals stick to surfaces, such as a child’s car seat, making it a potential hidden source of danger for children (California Department of Public Health).
While I'm jump-up-and-down happy about smoke-free car laws, Oregon isn't the first to pass this kind of ordinance. Puerto Rico passed one back in 2007, regarding children under 13. Califoria jumped on the bandwagon in 2008. Utah did it just this past year, considering children 15 and under.

Seriously, I have literally jumped up and down at the idea of children's health being protected by these laws. I just wish I knew why smoke-free car laws weren't catching on faster. We will demand the recall of a crib if it kills 3 babies. We will add safety straps to a Bumbo because a handful of negligent parents failed to follow the product's directions. But second-hand smoke results in SIDS-related death of over 400 babies each year and lands thousands more in the hospital. Where's the public outcry for the future health of children's lungs, brains, and circulatory systems?

Oregon, congratulations on your new law! It's clear you care about the health and welfare of your youngest residents, and I'm that much more excited about the possibility of our family becoming future residents ourselves. Thank you for pioneering a law that makes sense, and may your success with it influence states around you.

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