HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A legislative task force is grappling with the best way to protect children from secondhand smoke, especially those riding in a vehicle with a smoker.
The study panel was created after a bill that would have banned smoking in cars with young passengers raised many questions among members of the General Assembly. But it’s unclear what, if any, retooled version of the proposed ban will ultimately be recommended for lawmakers to reconsider when they return in February.
“I don’t know exactly what is going to come out,” said Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, the task force’s co-chairperson.
The proposed ban has been met with opposition from lawmakers concerned about the potential for invasion of privacy and whether it could lead to profiling by police looking for a reason to pull over particular drivers. Other legislators have questioned whether such a law would even be enforceable.
Considering the controversy, the task force has expanded its scope. It intends to draw attention in its final report to the legislature’s Public Health Committee to the need for more education about the health risks associated with smoking with young children inside a car, as well as the fact that Connecticut has spent the bulk of the money it receives from state tobacco taxes and a settlement with big tobacco companies on programs other than tobacco-control efforts.
“We’re looking at the bigger question,” said Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, the other task force committee co-chairperson and the original proponent of the ban on smoking in cars.
“What we’re really trying to do is find out how we can protect minor children from secondhand smoke, because we don’t do enough of a good job in Connecticut,” he said.
Bryte Johnson, director of government relations and advocacy at the New England division of the American Cancer Society, acknowledged at last week’s committee meeting that the issue of smoking in cars with children is important, adding how seven states have such laws on the books. But he said it is “fairly down in the pecking order in terms of tobacco-related needs.”
Johnson is pushing for the group to recommend the state spend more money on tobacco control efforts, such as ad campaigns and smoking cessation programs.
Connecticut’s tobacco settlement fund was created in 2002 and has been raided 67 times since by the General Assembly to help balance the budget, he said. During that time, Connecticut has received a total of about $1.9 billion from the tobacco settlement but spent only $28.5 million on tobacco-related programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Connecticut spend $32 million annually on such efforts.
“We do need to keep our eye on the larger problem,” Johnson said, adding how tobacco is estimated to kill 4,700 people in Connecticut annually
Johnson has suggested the task force recommend the state spend at least 50 percent of the CDC’s recommended level, given the reality of Connecticut’s budget problems. The legislature set aside $1.2 million for tobacco-related programs this fiscal year.
“We could put a very nice dent in the tobacco problem we have in this state,” he said. “But I’m not blind to the reality of the fiscal problem this state finds itself in.”
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