These are the states where it's still legal to smoke with kids in cars

FILE - A woman lights a cigarette behind the wheel of her car. (Photo by Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Children are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke when parents or other adults smoke in vehicles – a dangerous practice that officials warn can lead to both short- and long-term health risks to young passengers. 

Despite evidence of "high concentrations of secondhand smoke" in vehicles, many smokers still light up on the road. And research has found that a majority of smoking parents do so when their kids are with them. 

RELATED: Which states have the highest cigarette prices?

The CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and its dangers have been well documented – including causing coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. 

In infants and children, specifically, it can also cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks.

There’s no federal law about smoking in vehicles with children, but some states have taken the extra step of passing legislation to restrict the practice. Various laws ban smoking in vehicles used for childcare transportation, personal vehicles when kids are present, as well as workplace vehicles.

States that ban smoking in vehicles with children present

Twelve U.S. states, in addition to Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico, have laws that ban smoking in personal vehicles when children or adolescents are present, according to the CDC – which tracks such legislation on its website

These laws are specifically aimed at reducing children’s exposure to secondhand smoke on the road and the specific age provisions vary, the agency says.

West Virginia, which has the highest rate of adult cigarette use in the nation, became the most recent state to ban smoking in vehicles with children present under a law enacted in March

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Delaware
  5. Illinois
  6. Louisiana
  7. Maine
  8. Oregon
  9. Utah
  10. Vermont
  11. Virginia
  12. West Virginia (legislation passed in March 2024)

Seventeen U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting smoking in some or all workplace vehicles. Thirteen of these states ban smoking in vehicles used to transport children while in the care of home-based or commercial childcare facilities, the CDC says. 

States with no restrictions on smoking in vehicles

Another 21 U.S. states have no restrictions at all on smoking in vehicles, according to the CDC’s tally.

This includes Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington state, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. 

Smoking with the car windows down is dangerous, too

Several studies have found smoking just one cigarette in a vehicle with the windows closed can generate more than 100 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 24-hour recommended exposure limit to such dangerous particles, which irritate the respiratory system and seep from the lungs into the bloodstream.

Exposure to just one cigarette in a vehicle with the windows closed also exceeds the levels of these particles found in smoky bars and restaurants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For those who opt to roll the windows down while smoking in a vehicle for better ventilation, that practice isn’t much better, the CDC says. 

"Smoking in a vehicle with the windows or a vent open reduces the amount of secondhand smoke in the car, but even under these conditions the resulting particle levels are at least twice the EPA 24-hour recommended exposure limit," the agency states. 

"These levels are high enough to be considered unhealthy for children and other sensitive groups, while the levels observed with vehicle windows closed pose serious health risks to all people," it adds.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.