When I was a kid, a few years after the surgeon general released the original report linking smoking to vast health risks, my Dad—a doctor!—still smoked a pipe and the occasional cigar. I remember him lighting a stogie during a long drive in the family VW. I remember throwing up. It was an effective counterattack. But it’s not practical in all circumstances.
The most recent news about secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure is good; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “detectable serum cotinine” levels are down across the board in nonsmoking Americans. Serum cotinine is a marker in the blood that signals a nonsmoker’s exposure to secondhand smoke, and if levels go down, disease risk also probably declines with it. The CDC speculated that workplace and public-place smoking bans were the likely cause.
But there is a bug in the ointment: The population showing the smallest drop in cotinine levels is children, 4-11 years and 12-19 years. Why? Probably because, as the CDC pointed out: “The primary source of SHS exposure for children is the home; therefore, eliminating smoking in workplaces and public places is less likely to reduce children’s exposure to SHS.” Ironically, laws designed to protect nonsmokers against involuntary exposure to SHS don’t extend to the most vulnerable. It’s even possible that cigarettes not smoked in restaurants and bars are smoked at home—around kids.
The next logical step?
If smoking bans work, should smoking at home—in the presence of children—be illegal?
We asked online users that question in a joint Health.com/AOL Health survey, and frankly, I was a bit surprised that 47% of respondents said that, yes, smoking in homes or cars in the presence of kids should be against the law. Now these surveys are not scientific, and health-website users are presumably biased. (You’d get a different answer at, say, SocialSmokers.org, which argues that nonsmoking laws violate constitutional property rights.)
This is sacred territory—the intrusion of the state into the parental control of the child’s environment. Of course, parents are not allowed to abuse their children, but the definition of a healthy home is pretty broad. Shouldn’t Dad be able to smoke in front of the game if he wants to, even if Junior is in the room?
Those in favor of smokers’ rights will also point out that, in the obesity era, feeding Junior too many bags of chips likely fosters cholesterol or plaque levels that signal increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and the like. When you release the Nanny State hounds, nothing will be safe from their snooping noses.
But when you consider how far attitudes toward the control of smoking have come, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a city like New York, or a state like California, make some legislative gesture in the next 10 years toward parents who smoke in closed confines when kids are present.
Read the full results of our smoking survey here, and please share your views below.
Read Harassing Smokers, Part 2: This One Touched a Real Nerve
Read 97 Reasons to Quit Smoking. (You can email it to a smoker.)
Read the latest science on quitting.