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America’s smoking-est state considers banning cigarette use in vehicles with kids present

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West Virginia, which has the highest rate of adult cigarette use in the nation, could become the 12th state to ban smoking in vehicles with children present under a bill that won final legislative passage Thursday.

The Republican-dominated House of Delegates passed the bill on a 66-33 vote without debate. It now goes to Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has not indicated whether he would sign the bill. The GOP-supermajority Senate approved the bill last month.

Violators could be fined up to $25, but only if they’re pulled over for another offense. Smoking with children present cannot be the main reason a driver is stopped.

The legislation narrowly made it through the House finance committee earlier in the week after Republican Del. John Hardy called it “just another big government bill.”

“The next step is your home. The next step may be your business. Where are we moving this to?” Hardy said. “This is the most un-Republican bill that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

About 22% of West Virginia smoked in 2021, the latest year available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Republican Del. Dana Ferrell said sometimes the government has to intervene for the safety and well-being of children.

When he and his siblings were younger, Ferrell’s parents smoked in the car. He recalled the kids trying to hide in the back seat near the floor in an attempt to shield their faces.

“It may seem trite to some, but I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that,” Ferrell said. “It’s a horrible situation I wouldn’t wish on any other child.”

The bill originated in the Senate, where the majority leader, Tom Takubo, is a lung doctor. Takubo has said he made a promise long ago to a patient whose father was a heavy smoker that he would try to get such legislation passed. Takubo has made it almost an annual effort since 2017 to introduce the legislation.

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Associated Press writer Leah Willingham contributed to this report.

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