P'dale official wants ban on smoking in cars with minors

PORTERDALE -- A Porterdale city councilman is proposing a ban on smoking in vehicles transporting children.

Councilman Mike Harper said he was prompted to take action after witnessing three adults smoking with the windows up and an infant in the car at a traffic light in Porterdale.

"I've been in situations before where I've been in a car and had no say-so and it just made me sick, so I'm thinking, 'This is child cruelty. They are harming this child right here that can't say nothing,'" said Harper.

Harper said he plans to request that the council vote at its Aug. 5 meeting to authorize the city attorney to write a draft ordinance. He's already brought the idea to the council and said members seemed willing to listen.

Harper said he's not yet sure what the specifics of the ordinance will be, but said it makes sense that it should be against the law to smoke while transporting anyone who cannot legally purchase cigarettes. In Georgia, those under age 18 are prohibited from purchasing tobacco products.

Several states have laws prohibiting smoking in vehicles with children, including Arkansas, California and Louisiana. The age of children covered varies, with California's law covering those under age 18 and Arkansas covering children under age 14. In California, smoking with a minor in the vehicle can only be charged as a secondary offense, meaning the motorist could only be stopped for another violation.

"I'm looking to see what the laws are. I don't want to overstep my bounds here," Harper said. Harper said he does not smoke but has relatives who do.

In Georgia, it is illegal to smoke in most indoor public places, including state and local government buildings and enclosed areas within workplaces.

Harper said there's no reason smoking restrictions shouldn't also apply to vehicles, noting it's illegal to have an open container in the car.

Harper is the official who for four years pushed for a public indecency ordinance before it was approved by the council last year. The ordinance was initially aimed at baggy pants, but was modified to mirror state law after the city's solicitor advised that specifically targeting baggy pants could result in costly litigation for the city.

Harper said he won't back down on his latest proposal, even if it doesn't pass at first.

"I'm the type of person, I like to be a voice for people that don't have a voice," he said.