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Smoking laws more strict in 2014

POLK COUNTY — With Jan. 1 comes the new year, and with that comes the new law banning smokers from lighting up in cars with children younger than 18.

Beginning Jan. 1, people caught smoking in cars with children younger than 18 can be issued a $250 citation.

Photo illustration by Jolene Guzman

Beginning Jan. 1, people caught smoking in cars with children younger than 18 can be issued a $250 citation.

December 30, 2013

POLK COUNTY — With Jan. 1 comes the new year, and with that comes the new law banning smokers from lighting up in cars with children younger than 18.

During the 2013 legislative session, Oregon lawmakers approved Senate Bill 444, making it a traffic violation for people to smoke cigarettes, cigars or other tobacco products in cars with children. Those caught doing so can be fined $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second and subsequent violations. Those using e-cigarettes are not subject to the new law.

Matthew Stevenson, Polk County's tobacco prevention coordinator, said the hefty fines show lawmakers are serious about wanting to limit a child's exposure to secondhand smoke while riding in cars.

Matthew Stevenson

Matthew Stevenson

However, for enforcement purposes, smoking in a car with a child will be considered a "secondary offense." That means officers can only cite a person under the law if they pull them over for another traffic violation.

"The police officer has to find some other reason, some other violation while you are driving around, to be able to pull you over," Stevenson said. "Then, if you are smoking in the car (with a child present), they have probable cause to cite."

Stevenson said the Legislature was trying not to burden the dwindling number officers on the road with having to pull over every driver they suspect of breaking the new law.

"Budgets are tight at the state, county and city level," he said. "People want to make sure officers aren't overwhelmed."

Police agencies will be implementing their own strategies for enforcement starting today.

In Dallas, drivers will most likely be given warnings at first.

"We believe it's best to initially warn violators and help educate them of the new law," said Dallas Interim Police Chief Tom Simpson. "Along with this should be the understanding that officers will always have the discretion to take enforcement action right away if circumstances warrant."

Oregon is not the first state to adopt such a ban. Utah, Arkansas, Maine, California and Louisiana have similar laws, perhaps spurred by studies indicating passengers can be exposed to dangerous levels of secondhand smoke, even if car windows are open.

"There is evidence to show that you are still getting very measurable amounts of secondhand smoke, and especially in the back seat," Stevenson said.

Did you know?

Senate Bill 444 bans smoking in cars with children younger than 18.

Effective date: Jan. 1.

Fines: $250 for first offense and $500 for all others.