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Local Editorials

Anti-smoking bill oversteps state's bounds

Next time state Rep. Mike Boland goes to the supermarket, we wish he would stick to buying groceries and chatting with the checkout clerk.

Boland, an East Moline Democrat, got an idea for a new law while walking across the parking lot at the grocery store. We don't happen to think it would be a good law. Rather, if enacted, it would become one more example of the Legislature overstepping its bounds.

The bill to which we refer came about this way.

While trudging across the parking lot on a winter's day, Boland's mind was distracted from the frigid temps by the occupants of a nearby car.

As he described it, "I saw an adult smoking in a car. It was a cold day and the windows were rolled up. When I looked back a second time, I saw these two little heads in that cloud of smoke. I thought, 'That's really terrible, these kids are ingesting all that smoke.'"

Other shoppers probably would have shaken their heads and walked on. Not Boland. When you're a lawmaker and you see something you don't like, it's only natural to think about making a law to stop it.

That's exactly what Boland is trying to do.

He researched, wrote and introduced a bill to prohibit smoking in any vehicle when a child younger than 8 is in the car. His argument boils down to a children's health issue. He says secondhand smoke has been proven to cause health problems. He believes keeping kids away from it will help them live healthier, longer lives. He points out that other states have enacted or are considering similar legislation.

Anyone arrested and convicted of disobeying Boland's law could be forced to pay up to $1,500 in fines and be sentenced up to one month in the county jail.

Our first reaction: Such a large fine would mean less food on the table for the children involved. That can't be healthy.

Our second reaction: Such a long jail sentence would mean less parental care and supervision for the children involved. That can't be healthy, either.

Our third reaction: Legislators can't pass laws to protect human beings from every possible hazard in their lives. Even if they did, how could police possibly enforce them all?

We know smoking is unhealthy. We encourage smokers to quit, for their own sake and the sake of those who love them. Smokers who don't quit should have the courtesy and good sense not to expose others to their secondhand smoke.

Rather than legislate, we urge Boland to educate. Set aside money for a public health campaign to remind adults not to smoke anywhere where youngsters are.

In the meantime, a friendly warning to grocery shoppers in Boland's district: Always return your shopping carts to the cart corral. If Boland walks past and sees a stray cart next to your car ... well, you get the picture.

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