LIHUE — The Kauai Council unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a bill that prohibits smoking in cars with children under the age of 18.
“We want to protect our children, and it’s been a concern,” said Valerie Saiki, a representative of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.
While the council had questions about the legality and feasibility of the bill, they were willing to pass it on first reading to continue the discussion.
One issue that needs more vetting is the difference between private and public space, said Councilman KipuKai Kuali’i.
“All the laws in place now regarding smoking in public places are important, but in a free society, you have to be careful about an individual’s private rights,” he said. “To make a law that forces people to behave in a certain way is difficult to do.”
But Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney, said the county has the authority to regulate smoking in certain areas.
“We regulate smoking in any number of situations,” he said. “We regulate what people do when it comes to smoking because it has certain health factors, and we want to discourage children from being put in that situation.”
While Kollar said he understands people have the right to private property, kids have the right to breathe clean air.
“We’re not trying to change people’s cultures or their attitude toward private property,” he said. “But we feel like this is reasonable. It’s a very minor thing, and it can have health benefits.”
The office has no intention to prohibit smoking in a private home, Kollar added.
“Cars are a limited space, especially if the windows are up,” he said. “What people do in their homes is a little bit different.”
Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro questioned how the police would enforce the law, if passed.
“Are police officers going to be able to recognize someone smoking in a car, then notice they have a passenger and then identify that the person is under 18?” he said.
Kaneshiro also said he is worried about passing a bill that regulates people’s habits.
“I’m not comfortable legislating every part of our lives” he said. “Smoking in a closed car with kids is a common sense issue — don’t do it.”
The proposed bill was drafted in response to research by the the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.
According to the data, 76 percent of the people surveyed on Kauai said they supported a bill to ban smoking in cars with minors. Additionally, 71 percent of smokers said they support the policy, she said.
“A lot of parents, and even aunties and uncles, are actually really worried about this,” Saiki said. “They see parents dropping their kids off at school, and they are smoking.”
A similar bill was recently passed on the Big Island.
The bill also went to the Legislature earlier this year, but it didn’t get heard because it kept getting pushed back, Saiki said.
Ken Taylor said the issue is about the distraction smoking causes.
“The real problem is that people are distracted when they’re trying to light cigarettes,” he said. “It’s no different than fooling around with a cell phone.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura likened smoking in a car with children to violence against children.
“It’s about the health and safety of our children, and officers should have the legal authority to stop it,” she said.
But the initiative should be in education, Kaneshiro said.
“Letting kids know that secondhand smoke is unhealthy and bring home pamphlets that say smoking in a car is unhealthy,” he said.
A public hearing for the bill will take place on June 15. It will then go to committee for further discussion.