Feb. 9, 2007 -- It's not often that a 10-year-old testifies before a state legislature.
When Justin Kvadas, of East Hartford, Conn., is not studying and playing video games, he's working to get a bill passed by his state legislature that would ban smoking in automobiles -- to protect children from secondhand smoke.
"I came up with this idea one day when I was driving home from tae kwon do, and I was looking out the window and it just came to me -- if you can't eat, drink or talk on a cell phone while driving, how come you can still smoke? It can be just as dangerous, or more dangerous," Kvadas said.
The fifth-grader said he wants to speak up for kids, who don't generally have a voice in society yet face greater health risks from cigarettes. Kvadas said if children are in an extremely smoky room for one hour they inhale the equivalent of smoking 10 cigarettes.
"Kids will inhale more of the chemicals and the smoke, because their breathing rate is faster than adults," he explained.
When he told his mother about his plans, she told him they could try to work on some legislation. "So I'm like, 'OK.' And we did. She also warned me that there were going to be some people who wouldn't agree with it, and I was ready for that," Kvadas said.
Petitions, Speeches and Some Nerves
To start the process, Kvadas contacted his state representative and got to work on petitions.
"We have about 200 signatures. I left one of the petitions at my barbershop. I left one at my tae kwon do … my mom brought one to work and we went door to door," he said.
Tuesday he met the legislators and said during his testimony he wanted to "help those children who do not speak for themselves."
He said his own turn at public speaking made him nervous, given the size of the audience. "Because not just the people who were in front of me, but I also knew my whole school was there," Kvadas said.
And if that bill doesn't pass, he'll keep up the fight.
"It's important to keep trying because you don't want kids to have to inhale all of the toxic chemicals and cancer-causing ones, because it's bad for their health," Kvadas said. "And younger kids' lungs are still developing, so they're smaller and all this is very bad for them."