“Smoking with children? You can kill yourself, but don’t kill your kids.” Should we ban Cigarettes in cars?

In the United Kingdom the parliament is
debating around banning cigarette smoking in cars while children are present.
Inevitably the discussion is also relevant to Australia.
The debate is bringing out the usual
suspects of liberationists seeing their freedoms be restricted versus those in
favour of state regulation.
For the record I had a parent who smoked.
On cold winter’s days the windows would stay firmly up as mum would pull out a
cigarette, surrounding my brother and me in the odour of the ashtray. My clothes,
my hair and my lungs choked with revoltion. I hated it and I hated her for it.
It was uncomfortable and unpleasant even to a small child who didn’t care about
the health impacts. But what was a child to do? Refuse to get in the car?
Mum would continue to smoke, hating the
habit herself and eventually I left home, and she died – at the age of 45.
Those in favour of regulation to prevent
similar experiences to mine say that the state must intervene to prevent harm.
The liberationists cry ‘Nanny state!’. Adults have the freedom to decide and to
determine the environment in which children are brought up they say. But is the
liberation versus regulation the right place for this debate? Are our
communities missing the real issues?
Consider this, there is no argument in
western cultures that parents have unfettered rights to do with their children
what they wish. In cultures like the UK and Australia parents may not sell
their children. They may not force them into sexual servitude, beat or abuse
them. In some cultures these practices continue, but in the UK and Australia
these practices are outlawed, and rightly so.
The ‘nanny statists’ say such arguments are
alarmist. The state has already intruded to far into the right’s of parents to
be parents they argue. Some decry the outlawing of the strap, or the cane in
schools, or smacking. They see a decline in the ability of parents to discipline
children when children do not wish to do as they are told resulting in a
fragmented society.
After all, they argue, what child wants to eat Brussels Sprouts, do homework
or tidy their room?
One of the tough things about being a
parent is knowing when discipline a child and when to encourage risky behavior
in order for the child to learn lessons that will be valuable later in life.
Isn’t this for the parent to decide what risks children are exposed to?
Parents
do have the right to regulate their child’s behavior and the child’s
environment. The parents decide the housing, the suburb and most often which
school the child goes to. But this right is not unfettered. So where should the
line be drawn?
Those
who oppose cigarette smoking in cars do so based not on a child’s comfort, they
do so based on a child’s health. They say that the science is clear. Smoking
and passive smoking cause long term inflated risks of many diseases.
But
so does fast food. The long term effects of too much television or internet
activities are the subject of study. A parent who lets their child participate
in sport will also inflate the risk of knee injury, broken legs or broken arms.
We
the society, don’t (yet) regulate fast food, television access (although we
regulate content) and the parents decide on children’s participation in sport
often driving them to venues in cars that may or may not have smoke. Parenting
is after all a world full of grey zones.
What
about the risky behavior of sex? If a 16 year old seeks a parents advice about
engaging in consensual sex with the child’s 16 year old partner, in many
jurisdictions such activity would be illegal. But who would disagree with a
parent’s right to advise a child – indeed say that the parent must advise? Some
parents would ultimately say yes, some say no, and some would wish the question
were never asked.
But
what of a 14 year old? Or a 12 year old? What if a parent encouraged
promiscuous activity in a child, or, as rare depraved individuals do, encourage
the child to sell sex?
Just
in these preceding two paragraphs we have traversed the territory of grey zone,
through to morally questionable, to down right criminal.
Dressing
the debate up in questions of rights versus freedoms, respectfully avoids the
real and harder question to debate – the one of proximity of harm. Some times,
such as in sport, society encourage parents to put children in harms way. In
others society does not.
So
what of cigarettes? Is the harm of cigarette smoking ‘proximate’ enough to ban
what is a legal activity in cars with children? Long term cigarettes elevate
the risks of many diseases and the balance of science says that overtime a
smoker’s life is likely to be less
than a non-smoker, but not certain. Is that proximate enough to ban?
The
liberationists would say that if we now ban cigarettes, what is next? Fast
food, sport, camping in the cold outdoors? Where, they cry, do you draw the
line?
Perhaps
that is indeed the question. Where in society should we draw the line? Let’s
not be distracted on the liberationist versus regulation argument. Rights of
parents are and should be limited.
Isn’t the real question one science? Is the science now clear enough to show
that passive smoking in cars causes a proximate and significant risk to
children?



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So
what would I do, ban or not ban smoking in cars? Perhaps the middle road is up
the tax and use the revenue for public education programs that seem to work
well in Australia. Like “Don’t be a Wally with Water”, “Drink and drive blood
idiot” and “Slip, Slop Slap, Australians respond well to public
education.  So why not do an ad with a
nice catchy phrase like, “Smoking with children? You can kill yourself, but don’t
kill your kids.”

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