After years of persistence, legislation to prohibit smoking in cars with kids goes through

A decade ago, Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo first introduced a bill to prohibit smoking in vehicles when kids under age 16 are present.

Today, House Bill 378 at long last completed its legislative journey. The Senate had already passed the bill this year, and the House of Delegates passed it on a 66-33 vote. 

Now it goes to the governor. If he signs it, West Virginia would become the 12th state in the country to ban smoking in vehicles with children present.

Tom Takubo

“I’m most excited for the children — and this is one bill that I hope never gets enacted and never used in the entire history of the state — because it will bring awareness to parents to say I shouldn’t be doing this in the first place,” said Takubo, R-Kanawha. “If it achieves that and not a single ticket is ever written, that is the wildest success I could have ever dreamed.”

The legislation describes the offense as a secondary one for traffic stops. Violators could be subject to a misdemeanor and a $25 offense.

The bill has been introduced every year without making it to the legislative finish line. Takubo, a pulmonologist, said he promised a patient many years ago that he would keep on trying.

“It was based on a patient of mine — she was an adult, but she had lost about 50 percent of her lung function. She never smoked in her life, but her father was also a patient of mine, and he was a three-pack a day smoker. She had asthma, and when you have a toxic chemical on an asthmatic it causes severe bronchospasms, swelling, permanent damage of the airways,” Takubo said.

“So as a consequence, she lost half her lung function as an adult. She recalls that when she would talk to her dad and say ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ he would roll up the window if she complained. So she would climb to the floorboard and put her face underneath the seat of the car to try to breathe fresh air.”

Takubo’s story about that patient was vivid, and he suggested other children could be in a similar situation.

“Hopefully this will bring awareness to these parents to say ‘If I’ve got to smoke, let me just wait until I get to my destination and not force my child in a small, cramped confined area to breathe this.”

This year, the bill wound up passing fairly easily, but there was some opposition along the way.

Before a 9-7 vote in the House Finance Committee to advance the bill, Delegate John Hardy said “This is the most un-Republican bill that I’ve ever seen in my life. I hate them (cigarettes) and I hate the smell of them but I’m not in favor of big government coming in telling us what we can and cannot do with our own personal property.”

When the bill was debated in the Senate, Republican Mike Azinger of Wood County argued that “the arguments for the bill are essentially emotional arguments.” And he described the legislation as “a cut at the fundamental rights of parents. … This is the state going where it has no business going.”

Discussing the bill’s passage during a break in Senate floor sessions, Takubo said he’d intended to keep running the bill to keep his word.

“I promised her from the time I came to the Legislature that I would continue to try to do that until the time I left,” Takubo said. “So I held up to my promise.”

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