Did you know secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard causing more than 41,000 deaths per year (American Lung Association, 2019)?
Unfortunately, smoking tobacco products, are allowed to be in vehicles with minors, 17 and under, with current laws in West Virginia. With secondhand smoke being a cause of lung cancer and deaths, this becomes a problem for the youth of our state.
As a registered nurse, soon to be a family nurse practitioner, and as someone who has been exposed to secondhand smoke, I would love to see the laws change. This situation hits home as I was raised in a family of tobacco users. I experienced being the child who hated the smell of cigarette smoke in the car. It is frightening to know that I was exposed to carcinogens in an enclosed space as a child.
There are some that may think legislation to restrict tobacco use in vehicles is too restrictive; however, children do not have a choice as to whether or not they are being exposed to secondhand smoke. Some opponents believe that it would be the state supplanting authority of parents over their children. Ethically, I believe at some point that the legislature has to intervene and protect the most vulnerable.
I support legislation that was presented during the 2019 legislative session prohibiting smoking of any kind in a motor vehicle while a person 17 years of age or less is present (WV Legislature, 2019). With the bill presented during the 2019 legislation session, no person 18 years of age or older would be allowed to smoke or possess a lit tobacco product in a motor vehicle (WV Legislature, 2019). Any person to violate this section would be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than $25 to the Department of Health and Human Resources to be used for tobacco education (WV Legislature, 2019). Overall, this bill would not affect the tobacco organization or its users as it is simply asking the users to use their products elsewhere.
If the problem is not addressed, innocent children will continue to be involuntarily exposed to secondhand smoke leading to increased risk of health conditions and cancer. It is important today that readers take action to support this bill. The CDC (2019) states the only way to fully protect nonsmokers is to eliminate smoking in all homes, worksites and public places. Vehicles are very confined areas, posing an even greater health risk.
Legislation did not pass in 2019, but readers can write letters to legislators voicing their support of the bill in the next session. Readers also have the opportunity to support the bill by word of mouth. Often the public is not aware of bills being brought forward, and therefore, spreading the word that this bill is in process would encourage higher numbers to support the bill.
Overall, support of tobacco usage restrictions would provide a decrease in exposure to secondhand smoke to our most vulnerable community of minors. As a registered nurse, I would love to see overall health be improved. It would be incredible to see members of the state and my own community act on this issue and protect our children. I look forward to seeing the upcoming changes. After all, if we do not protect the children, who will?
Destiny Meadows, RN, BSN, West Virginia University School of Nursing, is associated with the WVU family nurse practitioner program.