California must protect our kids from secondhand smoke

How many times have you ever had to hold your breath while walking out of a building because of a cloud of cigarette smoke? 

Some may argue that you have the freedom to walk a different direction. 

Or what about the type of hotel room you stay in? 

Yes, you can opt to stay in a non-smoking room if available.

Now, imagine you are a child strapped – dare we say trapped? – in a car filled with cigarette smoke…

Do children really have a choice in making an adult put out that dangerous cigarette?

When California banned smoking in the workplace and, most notably, at restaurants and bars, the idea was to ensure that people were not forced to be exposed to a harmful environment. 

That is because among the most important obligations of government is to protect its residents. 

But how broad and how far that protection extends is at the center of many policy debates we have in America.

Earlier this year, I introduced Senate Bill 7, which would prohibit someone from smoking in a vehicle with a minor present.  After careful thought and discussion, this bill has made its way through the California Legislature and now sits on the governor’s desk. He has until Oct. 14 to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

This legislation has gained the support of countless health advocates, several local governments, and columnists and newspaper editorial boards statewide.  Organizations from the American Lung & Heart Associations to the American Cancer Society and the California Medical Association support this important legislation.  Senate Bill 7 addresses an issue that is among the highest of priorities: protecting those that cannot protect themselves.

These supporting groups have argued that it is not only appropriate for the government to act, it is an obligation.

More than ever, the public is aware of the serious health risks involved. According to a June 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, those exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.  It only makes sense that a greater level of protection should be given to our most vulnerable and defenseless — California’s children.

Numerous other studies have shown that the still-developing lungs of children are especially at risk.  Exposure has been shown to cause irreversible health problems, trigger asthma attacks and impact cognitive and developmental growth.

Add recent conclusions in separate clinical studies at Harvard and Stanford universities and it becomes clear — the problem becomes even more severe than first thought.  That data showed the average particulate concentration of cigarette smoke in vehicles is up to 10 times greater than the average particulate concentrations found in the homes of smokers.  Ten times…

Another recent study, this published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke even lowered student test scores.  Instead of telling a teacher, “The dog ate my homework” they might say: “Mom lit up while dropping me off on the way to school this morning.”

Seriously, the dangers are too great for government not to act.

A few people may argue that the government should not be stepping into these types of issues.  Unfortunately, this thinking ignores the real problem: Exposure to secondhand smoke is a form of child abuse and the safety of a child must come first.  In the same mindset as government required seat belts or mandating child safety seats, sometimes it is necessary for laws to protect the defenseless.

It is worth noting that my measure, despite nationwide news coverage, has not received any formal opposition.  None.  If signed into law, an adult smoking in a car with minors would only be cited under a secondary infraction, meaning that the smoker could not be ticketed solely for smoking in a car with kids present, they would have to have violated another law to have been pulled over.  The law carries a modest $100 fine.

Clearly, my goal is not to profit — but to raise public awareness.

I ask you to join me in supporting this much-needed effort to protect California’s quality of life, especially the lives and health of our children.

For more, including links to the studies cited above, visit Oropeza’s Web site at the address below.

Elected to the Assembly in 2000 and the Senate in 2006, Jenny Oropeza is one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the Legislature and chairs the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.  For more information visit