The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously Thursday to declare secondhand smoke a toxic air contaminant, opening the door to possible additional regulation of cigarette smokers in coming years.
Banning smoking in cars with passengers, particularly children, was recommended by the lone speaker at the hearing, Paul Knepprath of the American Lung Assn. He also called for smoking bans in hotels, motels and apartment buildings.
Legislation to forbid smoking in vehicles in California has failed in the past, and there are no guarantees the board would take such an action, or even can, said spokesman Jerry Martin.
"Our authority is very limited indoors, so that is something our legal staff would have to research," Martin said. "We do have authority to regulate cars, and some would say that includes inside them."
The board acted after state environmental health regulators found that secondhand smoke causes premature births, breast cancer and other deadly illnesses and respiratory diseases.
The breast cancer finding was the first of its kind by a government agency in the United States, and the state's actions are being closely watched by the tobacco industry, healthcare advocates and other regulators.
Once a substance is declared a toxic air contaminant, the air board is required to separately consider within three years whether additional measures are needed to protect the public.
California is already one of a dozen states that ban smoking in offices and restaurants. Martin said they could decide there was enough regulation of cigarette smokers on the books already or expand some existing local ordinances against smoking at beaches and parks, making them statewide bans.
It could take 18 months for the air board staff to research possible options. Public education programs by the air board and the Department of Health Services will begin immediately, including information about the links between smoking and breast cancer, sudden infant death syndrome and premature births.