LIHUE — It is now illegal to smoke in the car with minors on Kauai.
On Wednesday, the Kauai County Council voted 6-1 to approve Bill No. 2629, which prohibits smoking in cars with children under the age of 13. Supporters of the bill said it protects children from secondhand smoke by giving them a say in what happens around them.
The council voted to pass the bill after councilman Ross Kagawa introduced an amendment that lowered the age to 13 and below from 18.
“I was hesitant to approve the bill at 18 because I didn’t want to put more burden on our police force. I wanted to make it at an age where it would be an obvious violation,” he said. “It’s difficult to know if a 16- or- 17-year-old is 18. But it’s really clear if a 12 or under individual is in the car.”
Kagawa said he wanted to do something practical.
“At some point in time, let’s get an update from police about success and if they can enforce a higher age,” he said.
The amendment was approved 4-3.
Mel Rapozo, council chair, said he would not have supported the bill if the age was 18.
“I wasn’t sure how the age was determined to begin with. Basically, you can enlist in the military at 17, yet you cannot make a choice about smoking in the car, and be legal,” he said. “I’m still struggling it, but the reduction in the age is what did it for me.”
Kagawa and Rapozo, along with Mason Chock, Gary Hooser, KipuKai Kuali’i and JoAnn Yukimura voted to pass the bill.
Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro was the dissenting vote.
“I’m not comfortable legislating every aspect of a person’s life, especially common sense items,” he said. “If that was the case, we could probably sit around all day making laws protecting us from ourselves.”
Kaneshiro questioned how banning smoking in a car is protecting a child when the parent can smoke in the home.
“What’s the next step? Banning smoking in a house with a minor,” he said. “Ultimately, this bill sounds good and feels good, but does it accomplish its intended purpose?”
While Kuali’i said the bill should have been passed at the state level, he believes it will serve as an educational resource.
“As legislators, we have the obligation to make public spaces safe — that’s why we have laws about smoking in restaurants, bars,” he said. “Passing this will help with more education and outreach, and be a tool for kids to talk to their parents.”
Passing the bill is an important step in protecting children, Yukimura said.
“This is a small step, but an important one,” she said. “I hope we can help in a small way.”
Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney for the County of Kauai, who supports the bill, said he is satisfied that the council was able to find a compromise.
“I am glad that the council was able to come up with a bill that struck a good balance and protects both property rights and the health of our keiki,” he said. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and I thank all the advocates involved for their hard work in getting this done.”
Officials expect the bill to go to Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr. for a signature by the end of this week.