Wednesday, August 16, 2006

California Legislature Considering Bill to Ban Smoking in Cars with Young Children; Arguments Supporting Bill Reveal Flawed Justification for Policy

The California state legislature is considering legislation (Assembly Bill 379) which would prohibit smoking in cars with children under 6 or below 60 pounds. If it enacts the legislation, California would become the third state to ban smoking in cars with children present. According to the Sacramento Bee article about the bill: "Violators would be subject to a base fine of up to $100, which could rise to more than $350 through penalty assessments for courts, jails, trauma centers and other programs."

The chief legislative supporter of the bill - Assemblyman Paul Koretz - revealed the reasoning behind the proposed policy: "If you're too stupid to recognize that [secondhand smoke is dangerous] on your own, then we have to pass a law to tell you, 'Don't be an idiot, don't smoke with your small kid in the car with you.'"

The only organization mentioned in the article which is apparently supporting the bill is the American Lung Association, which was quoted as stating: "Think of the image. Young children, strapped into a child safety seat, unable to roll down a window or really control their environment at all -- and they're being exposed to harmful levels of air pollution."

According to the articles, two of the major tobacco companies have taken no position on AB379: "The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA, two of the nation's largest cigarette companies, have taken no position on AB 379. John Singleton, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said the company opposes smoking around children but that legislating such a ban can 'present some enforcement challenges.' 'I think it just puts an additional burden on law enforcement to make judgments when they already have, most people would say, a pretty full plate,' Singleton said."

The Rest of the Story

If there was any solid policy justification for imposing car smoking bans, supporters of such a policy have destroyed it by revealing the poor reasoning behind their support for it. The purpose of the law, apparently, is to legislate against people being stupid idiots and smoking in a car in the presence of children under age 6.

This is flawed reasoning.

If it is stupid to smoke in a car with children present and this stupidity needs to be banned, then it is even more stupid to smoke in a home with children present and that stupidity would certainly need to be banned. Children are exposed to secondhand smoke for many more hours in the home than they are in a car. By Koretz' reasoning, it's far more stupid to smoke at home around your children than in your car. So the legislature should be banning smoking not only in cars with children, but in all homes and apartments as well. How could the legislature possibly allow such stupid, idiotic behavior?

Moreover, if it is stupid to smoke in a car with children under age 6 present, then isn't it also stupid to smoke with a child of age 6 present? How could you be a stupid idiot because you fail to wait until your child reaches age 6 before you smoke in a car? Or, alternatively, how could you be a stupid idiot for smoking in your car if you have a 5-year-old, but be a reasonably smart citizen for smoking in your car with a 6-year-old?

And if we're going to legislate against idiocy that puts children at risk, there are a host of other things that we should probably outlaw even before smoking in cars. How about drinking, for starters? Or screaming at kids? Using curse words or foul language in front of them? Having an extra-marital affair?

As much as I may loathe the American Lung Association's description of the young child, strapped in the car safety seat, who cannot escape the smoke, this hardly justifies a policy of banning smoking in cars when children age 6 and under are present. The image, while compelling, is not particularly meaningful. If the child weren't strapped in the safety seat, would she be any less trapped in the car. What is she supposed to do? Jump out of the car if the parent starts smoking?

And how is a young child in a home any less trapped? Is a 2-year-old supposed to know enough to walk out of the house if his parent starts smoking? And what is a poor 9-month old supposed to do? Crawl their way over to the door and wait for someone to open it so she can crawl out and have an escape?

I'm sorry, but the reasoning in support of this policy just doesn't add up. It's flawed, and I don't see a way that it can be repaired.

The most important aspect of the rest of the story, however, is not the flawed reasoning that has been revealed in supporting car smoking bans. It is the way that smokers are being seen by legislators. Clearly, they are being seen as stupid idiots.

Smokers are stupid idiots because they expose their children to an increased risk of ear infections, respiratory infections, or asthma. But are parents who don't wear a seat belt stupid idiots for increasing the risk that they will leave their children parentless? Are parents who drink alcohol excessively stupid idiots? What about parents who don't remove the lead paint from their apartment?

If you really analyze each of us, you'll find that all of us parents are indeed stupid idiots. We all do things that knowingly put our children at increased risk of adverse health effects or other adverse consequences. By this reasoning, we are a nation of stupid idiots. It's just the smokers who are being singled out. Because smoking is true idiocy. But all the other vices, addictions, and poor health behaviors are smart ones.

No comments: