Exposure to second-hand smoke “is thought to increase a child’s chance of having ear infections, allergies, asthma, wheezing, pneumonia and frequent upper respiratory tract infections,” says Dr. Vincent Iannelli. Most parents understand the negative effects their smoking can have on their children, and yet they continue to smoke, if not directly in front of their children, somewhat nearby.
Full disclosure: I was a “social” smoker when my daughter was young, and by that I mean I liked to smoke around other people who were smoking. I did most of my smoking after hours at shows, but I’d occasionally take a puff while out pushing my daughter in her stroller. After all, we were outside – what harm could it do?
Even smoking while you’re away from your children can have a negative effect on their health. (Not to mention your own. I have since quit.) So it’s no wonder that the South Carolina legislature has taken up a bill that would ban smoking in cars carrying children. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but is it fair?
The Sun News reports, “Drivers or passengers who puff away with a child under 6 in the car could be fined in South Carolina under a legislative proposal.” Why age 6 as a cut-off? “The bill says if children are young enough to need to be in a safety seat, the air they breathe inside a vehicle should be cloud-free.” Interesting, especially considering that the AAP recently recommended that children as old as 12 be kept in booster seats.
Republican Joan Brady told reporters, “The child is a victim. They really are held captive in a car.” The Sun News notes that “the idea has died twice before in the libertarian-leaning South Carolina Legislature. But it got a boost last month when the new bi-partisan Committee on Children – made up of legislators, agency heads, and residents – recommended its passage.”
In 2006, Arkansas and Louisiana passed similar bills as did California and Maine in 2008. “They differ widely on the punishment and when children are old enough for drivers to light up, from 6 years old in Arkansas to 18 in California,” according to the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and American Lung Association. Reuters reports that in Arkansas, the age cut-off is about to be increased to 14.
If we’re going to legislate smoking around children in cars, we may as well do like California and draw the cut-off at the age of emancipation. No matter the cut-off age, the question is, is it fair to legislate a parent’s use of a legal substance? I suppose so, since cell phone use in cars is regulated, but I’m of the same mind about both of those things: either you can talk on a phone and/or smoke while you’re driving or you can’t. I think it’s silly to say, “It’s okay to talk but not text, it’s okay to use your phone if it’s hands-free. It’s okay to smoke, but not around children under the age of 6.” Also, if we’re worried about smoking around kids, why not ban it altogether? Why not make it illegal for a pregnant woman to smoke? I’m not advocating these things necessarily, but these are the questions we have to ask.
The bottom line is, if we’re going to ban smoking in cars, ban smoking in cars entirely, whether or not a child is present. (What if a smoker is in a car alone with their lit cigarette hanging out the window in stopped traffic next to a car with children in it? You get the point.) We have designated drinking areas, I see nothing wrong with having designated smoking areas. Yes, those smoking areas are getting smaller and smaller, but public drinking is only allowed in restaurants and bars. Smoking is still allowed in most open areas (think the streets of New York), but many public parks do ban smoking (think all New York City public parks). Mayor Bloomberg signed a bill into law back in February that goes into effect May 23, 2011 banning smoking from all public parks and beaches. Soon, the only place people will be allowed to smoke is at home.
Not that restricting smoking to the home is a great idea. Have you ever walked into the home of a truly heavy smoker? It’s horrible. The walls and the air are a thick, yellowish brown, like in a Dutch cafe. (Speaking of, Dutch lawmakers overturned a smoking ban in pubs last year.) Is it possible that at some point in the future it will be entirely illegal to smoke anywhere in the US? (Doubtful. Especially if the tobacco industry has anything to say about it.)
Are you a parent who smokes? What do you think? Do you want to quit or preserve your rights? Do you smoke around your children?
Additional sources: About