FILE - Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

Illinois could soon ban smoking in vehicles with children present.

Lawmakers recently passed a measure to prohibit lighting up with anyone younger than 18 in the car. It now awaits action by the governor. Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Illinois, said the idea for the legislation came from the public.

“We used to get a lot of calls from parents who were divorced. One of the parents would be concerned about the other one being in the car with their children smoking,” Drea said. “Or sometimes we’d get calls about grandparents or other relatives being in the car smoking. And that’s how this bill got started. It’s been around for a long time and it finally passed this year.”

Drea said there are plenty of risks involved with smoking in a small, enclosed space from which the child cannot escape.

“A car is such a small area,” Drea said. “You think about one person, but perhaps even two people smoking in a car with kids? It’s a very high-intensity of second-hand smoke exposure.”

The American Lung Association has said that exposure can lead to serious health issues down the road.

“Children’s lungs are smaller, they’re still developing,” Drea said. “Second-hand smoke exposure can cause an increase in the risk of SIDS, asthma issues, and ear infections. There’s a lot of things involved with exposing your child to second-hand smoke.”

If signed by the governor, the restrictions would be enforced starting Jan. 1, 2020. Smoking with children in a vehicle would not be a primary infraction, but a first offense could lead to a $100 fine with subsequent offenses racking up $250 fines.

The approval of the smoking ban capped an eventful legislative session for the American Lung Association.

“We’ve had a lot of successes over the years, but this is definitely one of the most successful years we’ve had,” Drea said. “Raising the cigarette tax a dollar a pack on top of the Chicago tax, which is already the highest in the nation, was a major win for us.”

As part of a funding mechanism for new capital projects around the state, lawmakers approved an increase in the state’s current $1.98-per-pack cigarette tax by $1. Meanwhile, e-cigarettes would be taxed at a rate of 15 percent. Both increases would take effect July 1 if signed by the governor.

Back in April, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to hike the minimum legal sales age to 21 for all tobacco products.

“Illinois is particularly a leader among the Midwestern states,” Drea said. “What we often see is other states will follow what Illinois does. It’s always a positive thing when the state passes bills like this.”

Drea said the next step she’d like to see is for lawmakers to add e-cigarettes to the state’s “Smoke Free Illinois” law. That would ban e-cigarette use in most indoor public spaces and workplaces in the state.

The Center Square Correspondent

A radio veteran with nearly twenty years of experience, Scot Bertram is the General Manager of Radio Free Hillsdale 101.7 FM, the student radio station at Hillsdale College. Bertram is also the co-host of "Political Beats" for National Review Online.