Starting in January, all Oregon residents who smoke in a vehicle in the presence of any child younger than the age of 18 may face a fine.

Individuals may be fined up to $250 on a first offense and up to $500 for a second or subsequent offenses. The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Police may site the offender, however, only if they have already stopped the operator of the vehicle for a separate traffic violation or other offense.

“I think this is really good (law) because the Surgeon General says there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” Janet Jones, Umatilla County Public Health educator, said. “We have a higher smoking rate in this county, so we know that more kids are being exposed.”

According to figures from the Oregon Health Authority, 21 percent of adults in Umatilla County smoke, compared with the state average of 16 percent and national average of 18 percent.

“We hope that (the law) will limit the exposure to kids and help to educate parents on the harms of second-hand smoke,” Jones said.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, it is estimated approximately 50,000 Oregon families are currently exposed to second-hand smoke in motor vehicles.

Jones said many adults think that by rolling their windows down, they will help reduce the child’s exposure to the harmful chemicals contained in the cigarette smoke. She said, however, people are still exposed at a high level to those chemicals even with the window down.

“Kids are very vulnerable to second-hand smoke,” she said. “Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to get bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections, which can be very painful ... That is why we have got to help.”

Results from a California Air Resources Board study reported second-hand smoke in motor vehicles can be up to 27 times more concentrated than in a smoker’s home. Additionally, whether the car is moving or parked, or whether the windows are open or cracked, the air-quality level remains in the hazardous zone with smoke often pooling in the backseat, according to the California Tobacco Control Program.

Oregon is now the sixth U.S. state to enact a law that aims to limit second-hand smoke in motor vehicles. Utah, Arkansas, Maine, California and Louisiana all have laws in place that limits smoking in vehicles while children are present.

For more information about the law and the effects of secondhand smoke, Jones said people should call her at Umatilla County Public Health at 541-278-5432 or visit the American Lung Association website,http://www.lung.org/associations/states/oregon/local-programs/tobacco-control/prevention/.

Jones said people who want to quit smoking should visit www.quitnow.net/oregon/ or call the toll-free Tobacco Quit Line, 800-784-8669.

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