On July 1, 2018, Maui County made it illegal to smoke or vape in vehicles with children under the age of 18 present. A first time violation results in a $200 fine.
Councilwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura first introduced the bill in September 2017 but it was originally deferred due to privacy reasons. “Some of the things people think—of course—is that your car is your private space, so it would be an overreach of government to try and tell you what to do in your car,” said Sugimura.
However, the bill is not a flat-out restriction on smoking in a vehicle. It only bans smoking and vaping when a child is in the vehicle.
Katie Folio, community coordinator for the Maui, Moloka‘i and Lānaʻi Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i says, “Folks can smoke all they want in their own vehicles when there are no children present. This law is to protect kids who don’t have a voice when they are stuck in those situations.”
Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, and at least 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke in cars is 10 times more concentrated than the level considered unhealthy by the EPA, even with the windows down. Inhaling secondhand smoke is even more harmful to minors because their lungs are still developing. It can cause children to have ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory problems like coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath, respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, and a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome.
There are also studies that show smoking cigarettes and/or vaping to be a traffic safety concern. The National Institute of Health published a report that smoking while driving can be an even greater distraction than using a cell phone. Cigarette smokers averaged 12 seconds of distraction while driving, which was equivalent to about 525 feet of travel without looking at the road.
Councilwoman Sugimura said she is not only supporting the bill because of health and safety reasons, but because it is something the children wanted. “The kids decided on their own—through their coalition— what their top priority was and they decided to choose smoke free cars,” she said. “The reason I’m interested is because the kids made a commitment to do this and they would market the idea and they would promote it.
Maui was the last county in the state to pass this legislation. The Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu all outlawed smoking with a minor in a vehicle in 2010, 2016, and 2017 respectively. Nine other states or territories across the country also have similar restrictions.