Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate advanced a bill on Monday to discourage adults from smoking in their vehicles when kids are present.

Tom Takubo

SB 378 says: “No person who is 18 years of age or older may smoke or possess a lit tobacco product in a motor vehicle if an individual 16 years of age or less is in the motor vehicle.”

It makes the act a misdemeanor with a $25 fine; the fine remains $25 no matter how many kids are in the vehicle.

And it’s a secondary offense, meaning the vehicle would have to be pulled over for speeding or some other violation before a smoking charge could be applied.

Health chair Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said the bill isn’t aimed at pulling cars over and generating more traffic tickets.

“It’s more of a public service announcement,” he said. If you’re a parent smoking in your car with your kids, “you’re going to do some permanent damage to their lungs. Long after you’re gone, they’re still going to be suffering or potentially suffering.”

Mike Woelfel

Lead sponsor Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha and a pulmonologist, repeated some of the points he made in Health Committee about why he pushed the bill one more time after several years of failure.

He cited a letter from a constituent who is about to turn 79 and endured his parents filling the car with smoke when he was a child – which made him cough to the point of vomiting. His siblings died of cancer.

Takubo said he hopes the bill will at least trigger some discussion for parents who smoke, “where they may not even realize what they’re doing to their child.”

Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, R-Cabell and a co-sponsor, said, “It’s going to send a message that in West Virginia we do care about our children.”

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said he’s perennially opposed the bill. “The arguments for the bill are essentially emotional arguments.” But it’s “a cut at the fundamental rights of parents. … This is the state going where it has no business going.”

The vote was 25-8 and it goes to the House.