- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2005

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Ashtrays have been disappearing in cars like fins on Cadillacs, and so could smoking while driving in New Jersey under a measure introduced in the Legislature.

Although the measure faces long odds, it still has smokers fuming and arguing that it’s a Big Brother intrusion that threatens to take away one of the few places they can enjoy their habit.

“The day a politician wants to tell me I can’t smoke in my car, that’s the day he takes over my lease payments,” said John Cito, a financial planner from Hackensack with a taste for $20 cigars.

Those cigars — as well as pipes and cigarettes — would become no-nos for drivers. Offenders would be stung with a fine of up to $250 under the measure, whose sponsor said it’s designed more to improve highway safety than protect health.

Some states, including New Jersey, have considered putting the brakes on smoking while children are in the car. But none has sought an outright ban on smoking while driving, according to Action on Smoking and Health, the country’s oldest anti-tobacco organization.

Smokers argue they already have been forced outside office buildings, run off the grounds of public facilities and asked to pony up more in per-pack excise taxes when states feel a budget squeeze.

“With smoking, it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to target legislation or prohibitions,” said George Koodray, a member of the Metropolitan Cigar Society, a group of about 100 that meets in Paterson for dinner and a smoke.

Assembly member John McKeon, a tobacco opponent whose father died of emphysema, sponsored the legislation. He cites a AAA-sponsored study on driver distractions in which the automobile association found that of 32,000 accidents linked to distraction, 1 percent were related to smoking.

The measure, co-sponsored by Assembly member Lorretta Weinberg, a fellow Democrat, was introduced last month just before lawmakers’ summer break. It faces some improbable odds for passing.

Some lawmakers may fear the bill is frivolous compared with more pressing issues such as taxes, said political analyst David Rebovich.

And there’s this to consider: Traffic safety groups acknowledge that motorists widely ignore the state’s year-old law against using hand-held cell phones, so why would smoking be any different?

Mitchell Sklar, of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said police departments may balk at enforcing such a law. “In general, we’d rather not try to incrementally look at every single behavior and make those a violation,” he said.

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