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Virginia bans smoking in cars with children eight or younger

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Rich Pedroncelli/ AP

(Read caption) A smoker snuffs out a cigarette at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Under a new Virginia law that goes into effect his Friday, July 1, adults will have to put out their cigarettes when in a car with a child eight years old or younger.

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Under a new Virginia law that goes into effect his Friday, July 1, adults will have to put out their cigarettes when in a car with a child eight years old or younger.

The law states that anyone in a car with a child eight years old or younger who holds a lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette, or other smoking equipment, or inhales or exhales smoke from any of those instruments, will have to pay a fine of $100. The ban is a second offense, meaning it cannot be the primary reason a police officer pulls a car over.

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Seven other states and Puero Rico have enacted similar laws, the earliest in 2006 when Arkansas banned smoking in a car with a child under the age of six and under 60 pounds in a child safety seat, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. The state changed the law to include children under 14 years old in 2011. California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Puerto Rico followed suit from 2008 to 2014 with laws protecting children eight and younger to 18 and younger.

The only United States federal law banning where one can smoke is the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act, signed into law in 2000, which prohibits smoking on all flights in the US or between the US and a foreign destination. A federal ban on in-car smoking does not seem to be coming in the near future.

Abroad, however, large jurisdictions have put their own car-smoking bans into force. England and Wales banned smoking in vehicles carrying children under 18 years old in 2015, even if the windows are down or the sunroof is open. The fine is 50 pounds, or about $68. 

"We already have in public places no smoking, and that's even in some outdoor areas you have to be within a certain distance," Tod Burke, a Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University, told WDBJ7 News. "So why subject a child to an enclosed environment where second-hand smoke could affect their health?"

In 2006, a Harvard School of Public Health study found that the levels of particulate matter found in vehicles where someone had been smoking for five minutes were higher than those found in bars in similar smoking studies. Those levels were also higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes as "unhealthy for sensitive groups," such as children and the elderly.

The researchers concluded that "smoking in cars under typical drive and traffic conditions provides potentially unsafe secondhand smoke exposure."

Laws alone, however, may not be driving the decrease in smoking in cars. A study published in Pediatrics in 2012 reported between 2000 and 2009, the prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure in cars declined significantly among nonsmokers and smokers, and this decline occurred across all school level, gender, race, and ethnic groups for nonsmokers.

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Still, they wrote, "in 2009, over one-fifth of nonsmoking students were exposed to SHS in cars. Jurisdictions should expand comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in worksites and public places to also prohibit smoking in motor vehicles occupied by youth."