Is It Illegal to Smoke in a Car With Kids?

The CDC has concluded that “Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous in enclosed spaces such as cars. This is why countries such as the United Kingdom and several U.S. states have laws against smoking in a car with minors. But the United States federal government has passed no such ban.

What states outlaw smoking in a car with kids?

According to the the CDC, nine states prohibit smoking in either a personal or a work vehicle while certain minors are present. The states with laws against smoking, while young kids are in your car, are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

Closeup of a woman's hand holding a cigarette against the steering wheel of her car.
Smoking in a car | Apho via Unsplash

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Several U.S. territories also prohibit smoking in your personal vehicle while transporting certain minors. These are Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Many drivers choose not to smoke in their cars just because of the risk of cigarette burns or damaging their interior with the smell of cigarette smoke. But others still smoke while driving. And while your private car is private property, you have to abide by all state rules while traveling on the roads. Some states are using this authority to prohibit smoking in cars with certain minors. But the specifics of these laws against smoking or vaping in a vehicle with minors differ by state.

Some of these laws only apply to very young children. Here is the age cutoff by state: Vermont, 8 years and younger. Lousiana, 13 and younger. Arkansas, 14 and younger. Utah and Virginia, 15 and younger. Guam, 17 and younger. California, Illinois, Maine, Oregon, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico: 18 years and younger.

The other 41 states in the U.S. have no laws explicitly prohibiting smoking in your private vehicle while children are present. Several other states do have laws that prohibit daycare operators from smoking while transporting or caring for children.

What states outlaw smoking while operating a daycare?

Thirteen U.S. states prohibit smoking while operating a commercial or home daycare, or while transporting children for daycare. These are Arkansas, California Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

Closeup of a man's hand holding a cigarette while hanging out the window of his SUV.
Smoking in a car | Jules A via Unsplash

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In addition to these thirteen states, the territories of American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws against smoking while operating a daycare or transporting children in the care of a daycare.

Several of these states have no laws prohibiting parents or guardians from smoking in private vehicles while transporting minors. In these cases, their specific laws affect adults who work with minors professionally. These laws all apply to both commercial and home-based daycare facilities. Maine makes a unique stipulation:you cannot smoke for 12 hours before you use that vehicle to transport children in the care of a daycare.

Is smoking in a car with kids dangerous?

Smoking in a car exposes your passengers to high levels of secondhand smoke. You may be surprised to hear that even with all your windows down, the amount of cigarette smoke in your car is still 10 times what the EPA considers a toxic amount.

Silhouette of a man smoking a cigarette in the driver's seat of his parked car, a colorful mural visible in the background.
Smoking in a car | Gil Ribeiro via Unsplash

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Children are so susceptible to secondhand smoke because their lungs are still developing. Dr. Kevin Nelson, founder of Pediatricians Against Secondhand smoke points out that minors exposed to secondhand smoke can suffer from childhood illnesses such as asthma and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

You can see an interview with Dr. Nelson in the video below:

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