Hadii Mamudu, whose research focuses on public policy and the harmful effects of smoking, said the narrow defeat of the bill on the floor of the state Senate is evidence the tobacco lobby still has power on Capitol Hill.
Mamudu said he had hoped Tennessee lawmakers would follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in Arkansas and Louisiana, where similar laws have been approved. He said the debate on the Tennessee bill came down to the same arguments of personal freedom that have been heard in past efforts to restrict smoking.
“It comes down to protecting individual liberty versus protecting the health of minors,” Mamudu said. “They call it a slippery slope. They say if we legislate smoking in private cars, what is next?”
A bill that would have allowed law enforcement officials to cite adults who are found smoking in a car with a child present failed April 17 on the Senate floor by a 16-8 vote — one shy of what was needed for passage.
State Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, told his colleagues the legislation “was an overreach into the lives of all Tennesseans.”
Mamudu said similar bills to restrict smoking have regularly been killed in the tobacco-friendly House Agriculture Committee. That is why he believes all smoking-related legislation should he assigned to the standing health committees of both the House and Senate.
He said the science on the negative health effects of secondhand smoke has long been settled. And there is no place where inhaling secondhand smoke is more dangerous than inside a motor vehicle.
“Cars are one of the most enclosed environments you can imagine,” Mamudu said. “There is a high level of ambient particles in the air.”
In addition to children being exposed to carcinogens from secondhand smoke in a car, they are also being exposed to parents and other adult figures using tobacco in their presence. Mamudu said this could “normalize tobacco use for children,” which might mean they, too, pick up the habit.
Mamudu has urged Tennessee lawmakers to repeal a 1994 law that restricts local government officials when it comes to regulating tobacco products. The law prevents cities, towns and counties from going beyond the tobacco-friendly smoking regulations already approved by the state.
“There are only 12 states left that still have these pre-exemption laws on the books,” he said.