PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Smoking in a vehicle with young children could soon be against the law in Pennsylvania.
The Senate Transportation Committee has approved a bill to do just that. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Washington County Republican, remembers as a child getting stuck in a smoke-filled car with a family member.
"Young lungs are delicate and having been exposed to secondhand smoke as a child myself, I know how awful it was for me trapped in a car with my grandmother who was a chain smoker," Bartolotta told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Friday.
Barlotta joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats on the Transportation Committee who voted 11 to 3 to approve a bill making smoking in a vehicle with children 12 or younger a secondary offense with fines up to $250.
Bartolotta said this bill makes common sense.
"It really does exacerbate asthma. It can bring on all sorts of infections in young children, and we go out of our way to protect our children when it comes to the right kind of safety seats, car seats, and the way they're strapped in and protected and secured in an automobile," Sen. Bartolotta said.
"I think this is just an extension of protection for our young riders," she added.
While smoking in the United States is declining, about 14 percent -- or seven in 50 Americans -- still smoke, and many enjoy smoking in their vehicle.
State Sen. John DiSanto, a Dauphin County Republican, said this bill goes too far, telling KDKA, "I believe this is government overreach and a poor use of police officers' time to criminalize smoking in one's own car."
"It's not a crime," Bartolotta said. "It's a fine. The police aren't out there looking for smokers."
That's because as a secondary offense, you can only be cited if the police stop you for something else like speeding, or running a light or stop sign.
DiSanto's office also suggested banning smoking in one's own home could be the next logical step. But Bartolotta said there's a big difference because at home, children are not strapped into a small, confined space like a car.
The American Lung Association said the dangers of secondhand smoke are documented, and this bill protects the health of young Pennsylvanians trapped in a car or truck with a smoker.
"They are young lungs; they are developing lungs. We know that 6.1 million kids live with asthma, so if you have a child with asthma breathing and being exposed to secondhand smoke can only exacerbate and make that asthma worse," said Aleks Casper with the American Lung Association.
Although the bill, S.B. 667, easily passed the Transportation Committee, Barlotta said it could face greater opposition on the Senate floor.
So far, only nine states have passed similar laws, with the closest being Virginia and Illinois.
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