The Schenectady City Council is expected to pass legislation next week that would prohibit smoking in vehicles while minors are passengers.
The law would ban smoking in a vehicle when a passenger under the age of 16 is on board. A violation will result in a fine, though councilors expect to implement a grace period at first so residents are aware of the change. Schenectady would be the first city in New York state to pass such a law.
Councilman John Polimeni sponsored the legislation, which applies to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. The goal is to protect children from the health and financial consequences of secondhand smoke, he said.
“This is one measure to try and protect kids and respiratory function,” Polimeni said. “It’s also a financial matter. Children will grow up and have diseases, and society will end up having to pay for it.”
The city council plans to provide a six month period after passing the law where violators would be let off with a warning, Polimeni said. That will help residents become familiar with the change before facing a fine.
“We don’t just want to fine people, the idea is to get people to stop smoking in cars with their kids,” Polimeni said.
If a driver violates the law, the punishment is a $50 fine for a first offense in a year. That cost escalates to $100 for a second offense within a year and $150 for a third offense within a year.
Councilman Vince Riggi added that the law is a good idea in theory, though the council will have to figure out how specifically the law will be promoted and enforced.
No city has passed a similar law in the state, Polimeni said, though 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.
Polimeni understands worries about infringement on people’s behavior in a private space, saying he shares some of the same concerns. However, he said, there’s a need to protect children’s health in this case.
“I’m in the same boat of, it’s your property and you can kind of do what you want to an extent, but we do have to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” he said.