Schenectady council backs car smoking ban

The Schenectady City Council approves law banning smoking with minors in the car.
Councilman John Polimeni speaks in support of a law banning smoking in cars while minors are present.
Councilman John Polimeni speaks in support of a law banning smoking in cars while minors are present.

The City Council on Monday night passed legislation that prohibits smoking in cars while a minor is present.

In a 5-1 vote with one abstention, council members passed the ordinance, which bans smoking in a vehicle when a passenger under the age of 16 is present. Despite some concerns regarding enforcement, council members pushed the law through, arguing for the importance of children’s health.

Schenectady is the first city in New York state to pass such a law.
Councilman John Polimeni, who sponsored the legislation, said it would protect children’s respiratory health and help reduce medical costs for those with respiratory diseases.

“They can’t protect themselves, so we must do it,” he said. “This is an area where we can take a leadership role in the state and be proud of ourselves.”

Polimeni added that he understands concerns about enforcement and infringement on property rights, but said the need to protect children’s health is greater.

Council President Leesa Perazzo said she struggled with whether to support the law, but ultimately voted “no.” She said she’d support a similar law proposed at the state or federal level, but expressed concerns over how the law would be publicized and enforced at a local level.

Councilman Vince Riggi abstained from the vote, saying he worried the prohibition would put an additional burden on the city police.
“I’m not a pro-smoking advocate by any means. My concern from the get-go has been the enforcement end of this,” he said. “I just don’t see how it can be enforced.”

One resident spoke at the meeting in opposition to the legislation. Like Riggi, he said he’s anti-smoking, but felt the law would be difficult to enforce, as are noise ordinances.
The next six months will serve as a grace period during which violators will be let off with a warning, council members said previously. After that, drivers will face escalating fines: $50 for a first violation; $100 for a second violation within a year; and $150 for a third.

While Schenectady is the first city in New York to pass a smoking ban in cars, the legislation isn’t unheard of. Rockland County approved a measure in 2007 banning smoking in cars with children under the age of 18 present. That law is also enforced using fines that escalate for repeat offenses.

Some states have adopted smoke-free car laws in recent years. Arkansas bans smoking in a car while a child under the age of 14 is riding along, and Virginia prohibits smoking when children under the age of 8 are in the vehicle.

In New York, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky introduced a bill in the 2015-16 legislative session that sought to prohibit smoking in vehicles when a minor under the age of 14 is a passenger.
That legislation never made it out of committee.

Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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