Council panel defers bill banning smoking in vehicles

Maui County Council committee members want to protect minors from secondhand smoke but have questions regarding enforcement and privacy issues surrounding a bill to ban smoking in cars when minors are present.

The Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee took up the bill Monday in Council Chambers in Wailuku regarding prohibiting smoking in vehicles, including the use of electronic cigarettes, when people under 18 years old are present. The panel deferred the matter.

Committee Chairwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura, who introduced the bill, has said that youths from various organizations asked for the law. Hawaii and Kauai counties have adopted similar laws. The Honolulu City Council is in the process of reviewing similar legislation. Efforts to establish a statewide law have failed in the past two sessions at the Legislature.

Council Member Don Guzman on Monday wanted to see if there is data on whether smoking in a vehicle causes driving and traffic issues, which he said was not presented Monday.

“Unless you can connect smoking with public issues, I would consider it a private issue,” he said.

Guzman said that he introduced a bill that was passed to make it illegal to smoke in public parks, but he noted that parks are public places, unlike vehicles, which could be considered private.

Guzman said that he understood the bill is to protect children, and he supports that, but questioned if there would be enforcement of the law on private or noncounty property and if people could be cited if they were in a nonmoving vehicle.

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi said that, according to the ordinance, the law would be enforced on all roads and all properties, even if a vehicle was not moving.

He said that he wondered what would happen if a person uses his or her car as a residence and is found smoking in that vehicle with children. But Kushi did sign off on the ordinance, and it is a duplication of what Hawaii and Kauai counties have done, he said.

Committee member Riki Hokama questioned the penalties of the violation, which Kushi said would be no less than $25 and no more than $50. Hokama wondered if that would be enough to deter activity.

“Unless it hurts, it’s hard to curb attitude,” he said.

He also wondered how police would enforce the law.

Maui Police Department Sgt. Kenneth Kihata told the committee that if police see the action “on view,” then they could pull over the car and cite for the violation.

Police officer Ryan Ehlers of the Traffic Section discussed privacy in vehicles. He compared smoking legal substances in a car to when an officer may see someone smoking methamphetamine in a car.

“I can still make that arrest. I see it is ‘on view.'”

There was also testimony in support of the bill.

Mary Santa Maria, public health educator with the state’s Maui District Health Office, said that leading health authorities around the world have documents that echo that “there is no safe . . . exposure to secondhand smoke.”

She said a study showed that, in Hawaii, 18 percent of high school students reported they were exposed to secondhand smoke in closed vehicles. Sixteen percent of secondary school students reported the same.

She added that the Health Department is in support of the measure.

Testimony in support also came from Maui youths.

Isabelle Collier, a 14-year-old Baldwin High School student who is a representative for the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii Youth Council, is hoping the bill will pass.

She said that her 2-year-old niece is subject to secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes used by adults in the car.

“They do this while my niece is sitting in the back seat, just inhaling all of this smoke.”

Collier said that when she was 3 years old, she and her sister used to play with the holes her father made in the car seats with his cigarette.

“Now that I think about it, it’s just disgusting.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS