An article published Saturday in the Vancouver Sun states: "It's time to debate a ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children." In that light, the editorial discusses one of the central issues in such a debate: what health risks to children are the proper subject of government intervention?
The editorial ends up taking the side of car smoking ban proponents, arguing: "After all, if we can through government regulation increase the chance that children will grow up to become healthy adults, why not do so?"
However, the editorial also acknowledges that "smoking in cars is not the only thing parents do that can be construed as harmful to their children. Smoking in the home is another. As are allowing them to eat junk food or to become obese through poor diets and a lack of exercise. How about regulating the amount of time children spend in front of a computer or watching television? It's not easy to make hard and fast rules about when the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit should be overruled by the state."
The Rest of the Story
I found it fascinating to read this editorial. It raises what I think is a profound and critical question about the difficulty of setting rules about when the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit should be overruled by the state. But that's not what was fascinating to me.
What was fascinating was the fact that after raising this important question, the editorial concludes, without any reasoning given, that of all the examples it provides, smoking in cars should be outlawed, but none of the other parental behaviors that the editorial acknowledges harm children.
It's like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. All of the behaviors are listed which are similar in that they are all examples of parents harming their children. But the conclusion is that - magically - only smoking in a car ought to be regulated.
I agree with the editorial that "smoking in cars is not the only thing parents do that can be construed as harmful to their children. Smoking in the home is another. As are allowing them to eat junk food or to become obese through poor diets and a lack of exercise. How about regulating the amount of time children spend in front of a computer or watching television?"
So if that's the case, then shouldn't we also be supporting laws that would ban smoking in the home, prohibit feeding children excessive junk food or failing to provide them with enough opportunities for exercise, and regulate the amount of time that parents can allow their children to sit in front of a computer or watch television?
If it is true that the chief criterion for evaluating a policy proposal is whether or not "we can through government regulation increase the chance that children will grow up to become healthy adults," then why not promote these other measures, such as a ban on smoking in homes, as well?
I have been trying for some time to initiate a debate within the tobacco control community about this very issue. However, so far, anti-smoking groups which support car smoking bans have not been willing (or able?) to answer the following two questions which I think are critical to the discussion:
1. If it is true that smoking around children in cars is intolerable and must be prohibited and that government intrusion into parental autonomy and privacy in their cars is justified, then why should we not also prohibit smoking around children in the home, or in other locations besides a car?
2. If it is true that the government is justified in interfering with parental autonomy in order to merely protect children from an increased risk of adverse health outcomes, then why should we not also prohibit a host of other parental behaviors that cause significant harm to children's health, such as feeding them food with trans-fats, relentlessly feeding them excessive junk food, and allowing them to engage in health-risky behaviors such as rollerblading, playing hockey, or sitting all day at the computer and television screen?
It is time for this debate. I look forward to hearing from the other side. I'd love to be able to be talked out of my current position.