Thursday, May 04, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Why Leave it at Children? Smoking Around Anyone Is Physical Abuse and Should Be a Criminal Offense

In response to my post in which I argued that it is inappropriate to consider smoking around children to be a form of child abuse and in which I suggested that criminalizing this behavior was not a reasonable approach to the problem, several anti-smoking advocates have argued that children are severely harmed by secondhand smoke and that it is therefore child abuse and parents who smoke around their children should be criminalized.

But I don't see why it should stop with parents of children. Secondhand smoke is hazardous even to adults. In fact, according to more than 65 anti-smoking groups, just 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes hardening of the arteries, reduction in coronary blood flow, blood clots, narrowing of arteries, decreased blood flow to the body, heart attacks, and/or catastrophic or fatal arrhythmias. And there is no indication from any of these groups that such effects are restricted to individuals with severe pre-existing coronary heart disease.

In fact, these cardiovascular effects on adults are apparently greater than the effects on most children, where the concerns are largely related mainly to infection: upper respiratory infections and ear infections.

It only makes sense, then, to consider smoking around anyone to be a form of physical abuse. At very least, smoking in the presence of another person should be a criminal offense, or at very least a civil offense.

This means that a spouse who smokes in the home when their husband or wife is present is guilty of spousal abuse. A man who is sitting around watching television and being exposed to tobacco smoke from his wife should be able to call the police and have them come over and issue a ticket to his wife. And if the problem persists, it should be a criminal offense. After two or three repeated offenses, a severe fine and then jail time for the wife should be considered.

The same is true for people who smoke in their own apartments. Since inevitably, nonsmokers in other nearby apartments are going to be exposed to that tobacco smoke (and according to ASH, even "drifting tobacco smoke" exposure for 30 minutes raises the risk of a fatal heart attack among nonsmokers to the level of a smoker), smoking in an apartment is a form of physical abuse. It should be a criminal offense. You should go to jail if you do it repeatedly.

If I live in a neighboring apartment, I should be able to call the police and have you fined for smoking. And with repeated offenses, you should be carted off to jail.

The same is true for smoking on a sidewalk. The damage from the drifting tobacco smoke is occurring. A nonsmoker walking down the street who is exposed for at least 5 minutes should be able to have the police arrest the offending smoker, because within 5 minutes, your body begins to close down arteries, according to one anti-smoking group. How can it possibly not be a crime for someone next to you to engage in a behavior which is going to start closing down your arteries?

And what about two-family homes? If you smoke and a child lives next door, you are a child abuser, and you should be treated accordingly. Increasing fines, then jail time.

In my view of the world, smokers would be rounded up, left and right, if they exposed anyone to their tobacco smoke. They would be shipped off to jail, where they would undergo mandatory smoking cessation programs. The public health benefits would be amazing.

What about smokers who smoke in the presence of other smokers? They would still need to be rounded up. After all, if exposing others to smoke represents physical abuse, then it is not excusable by arguing that the person has agreed to the abuse. A parent cannot successfully avoid being charged with child abuse if the child honestly states that they don't mind getting hit and they'd rather live with the parent and get hit than have to live with a foster parent.

This would actually be the most efficient aspect of my policy in terms of its enforcement. The police could focus on smoking areas and smoking lounges. They could round up huge numbers of smokers in a single raid. You raid one airport smoking lounge and you've ridded the world of 30-40 criminals in less than the time it takes for an artery to close off from secondhand smoke exposure.

And perhaps the best benefit of my proposed policy is that the police would gain valuable experience in raiding homes to give people citations, monitoring their behavior in their homes, giving them repeat citations, and eventually arresting them if necessary.

Once we get rid of all the smoking criminals, then we can focus our attention on illegal immigrants. And in some cases, I bet we could even kill two birds with one stone.

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