Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough teens' idea becomes bill to ban smoking with kids in car

Hillsborough high school students sponsored by Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, far right, present an the bill to the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Associated Press

Hillsborough high school students sponsored by Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, far right, present an the bill to the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday in Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE — Rebekah Morffi remembers riding in a car when she was 5 years old with her grandmother, whose cigarette smoke saturated the interior.

"I just remember suffering in the back seat with nobody to help out," said Morffi, a freshman at Bloomingdale High School in Valrico.

So she proposed legislation to ban smoking in cars around kids. Morffi and seven other Hills­borough County high school students presented the idea Wednesday, winning unanimous support from the Senate Transportation Committee.

The legislation would make it illegal to smoke in a car when children younger than 16 are present. It would be a secondary offense, so an officer could not pull someone over because they are smoking. But if they are stopped for another reason and are in violation, it would count against them.

A violation would result in a $100 penalty, although the bill gives the officer the latitude to issue a warning and give the person antismoking information.

Florida is one of 23 states to propose similar legislation and would join four others that have enacted such laws.

The students are members of the "Ought to be a Law" civics program in Hillsborough County. Students from each of the county's high schools propose ideas for bills, and they compete for the right to have their proposal sponsored by local lawmakers.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, created the program and sponsored the bill in the House. He said the bill's next steps would teach the students the intricacies of the legislative process. They now hope to persuade other legislators to attach the proposal to other bills.

Ambler said the legislation is not a novelty and "has a fair chance, just like many other bills right now."

The students came prepared for Wednesday's committee hearing, though some were admittedly nervous. They stayed up until about 2 a.m. the night before working on a presentation filled with medical studies, statistics and personal stories.

The students argued that the legislation is similar to laws punishing parents who leave children alone in cars or don't buckle them up.

"If we didn't have those laws, not everyone would do it. We'd have kids dying because they don't have their seat belts on and because they were left in hot cars," said Fadwa Hilili, a junior at Tampa Bay Technical High School. "We definitely need this law to make sure children are safe from the dangers of secondhand smoke."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that infants and children are particularly vulnerable to the toxins in secondhand smoke because they are still developing.

Exposed children tend to have weaker lungs and be more susceptible to acute respiratory ailments and ear infections. Exposure also makes babies more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome, according to the CDC Web site.

Secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 150,000–300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year, and riding in a vehicle is one of the main ways children are exposed, the CDC says.

Several lawmakers commended the program for getting children engaged in public service. Tampa Republican Sen. Victor Crist, who sponsored the bill, told a story from when he was an aide to lawmakers decades ago.

"I remember the five-hour trip back to St. Petersburg with the good senator and the good representative that I was here with — with the windows up and them puffing away on cigars," he said. "In their honor, I'd like to see this bill passed."

Lee Logan can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or

Hillsborough teens' idea becomes bill to ban smoking with kids in car 04/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 8:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?


    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  2. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  4. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  5. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.