Heavy-smoking West Virginia becomes the 12th state to ban lighting up in cars with kids present

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia, which has the highest rate of adult cigarette use in the nation, became the 12th state to ban smoking in vehicles with children present under a bill signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice on Friday.

But violators can only be fined up to $25 if they’re pulled over for another offense. Smoking with children present cannot be the main reason a driver is stopped.

About 22% of West Virginia adults smoked in 2021, the latest year available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Justice didn’t comment on the bill, which was among 15 he signed Friday. West Virginia’s 60-day legislation session ended on March 9.

The bill originated in the Republican-dominated state Senate, whose majority leader, Tom Takubo, is a lung doctor. Takubo has said he made a promise long ago to a patient whose father was a heavy smoker that he would try to get such legislation passed. Takubo has made it almost an annual effort since 2017 to introduce the legislation.

The biggest hurdle came in the House of Delegates finance committee, where it won narrow passage after Republican Del. John Hardy called it “just another big government bill.”

“The next step is your home. The next step may be your business. Where are we moving this to?” Hardy said. “This is the most un-Republican bill that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Republican Del. Dana Ferrell said sometimes the government has to intervene for the safety and well-being of children.

Ferrell said when he and his siblings were younger, his parents smoked in the car. He recalled the kids trying to hide in the back seat near the floor in an attempt to shield their faces.

“It may seem trite to some, but I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that,” Ferrell said. “It’s a horrible situation I wouldn’t wish on any other child.”

The GOP-led House later gave final passage to the legislation without debate.

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