Monday, June 12, 2006

Arkansas Legislator Proposes Ban on Smoking for Pregnant Women

According to an article on the KTHV website (Little Rock, Arkansas), Arkansas state representative Bob Mathis, author of the state's ban on smoking in cars with children, has proposed the idea of banning smoking by pregnant women:

"If you're pregnant and you smoke, a Hot Springs legislator wants you to stop. In fact, Representative Bob Mathis wants his colleagues to study whether it should be against the law for you to smoke. During this spring's special session, Mathis led the charge to ban smoking in cars with children. He told lawmakers on Saturday that children born to smokers face the risk of long-term health problems and questioned whether it was 'constitutional' for a mother to smoke while pregnant. Mathis urged lawmakers to study the issue before the Legislature goes into session in January."

The Rest of the Story

To me, the story here is not that a legislator supports this idea of lifestyle control. There are plenty of crazy legislative ideas out there.

To me, the story here is that the legislator could and would propose this idea publicly without being afraid of ruining his political career. The story, I think, is that the anti-smoking movement has been so successful in demonizing smokers as people that a legislator could even get away with making such a proposal in the name of protecting the public's health.

There is no qualitative difference between the idea of banning smoking during pregnancy and the idea of regulating the salt intake of pregnant women, prohibiting peanut butter intake by pregnant women, or banning the ownership of cats by women who are pregnant, or banning sex with anyone other than a sexually-transmitted disease-free father. All present significant potential risks to the unborn child.

But interestingly, smoking is the only health behavior that could present risk to the fetus that I see being discussed as a potential target for regulation. I can't help but believe this is due, in large part, to the demonization of smokers that we in tobacco control have made possible through our mindset of punishing smokers and trying to make them social pariahs through actions such as supporting employer smoker bans, criminalization of smoking around children, treatment of smoking around children as child abuse, and criminalization of smoking around other people in public places.

Lifestyle control is a dangerous thing. But I'm not attempting to make a slippery slope argument. It doesn't matter whether smoking is the first thing to be banned, or the only thing that legislators intend to regulate. Regulating smoking among individuals to protect harm to themselves (or to a fetus) is enough. It is the slippery slope. We don't need to go down any further from there to make it wrong.

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