Friday, December 15, 2006

California Medical Association Adds Support to Proposal that Will Increase Kids' Secondhand Smoke Exposure

The California Medical Association (CMA) on Saturday expressed its support for a proposed policy in Belmont that would ban smoking everywhere indoors and outdoors, with the exception of detached, single-family homes.

In a letter to the editor published in the San Jose Mercury News, the president of the California Medical Association wrote: "Plaudits to city officials in Belmont who are drafting a plan to ban smoking citywide (Page 3B, Dec. 5). The California Medical Association began opposing tobacco use even before the surgeon general issued his warning in the 1960s, and led the fight in banning smoking on planes, in bars and restaurants, and in all public places. Belmont's plan is more closely in line with our goal: to make California tobacco-free. It will happen, as long as cities like Belmont take a stand against the powerful tobacco industry, which continues to encourage people to smoke and fights anti-tobacco efforts in the face of clear scientific evidence that tobacco is deadly. The physicians of California see this as the right thing to do for the health of Californians. We hope other cities follow Belmont's lead."

The Rest of the Story

Do the physicians of California see forcing parents to smoke inside and expose their children to secondhand smoke, rather than being able to go outside to smoke, as the right thing to do for the health of Californians?

Yet that is precisely what the proposed policy in Belmont would do. By banning smoking outdoors, even on residential property, the policy would force parents who smoke to stay indoors in their homes to smoke rather than going outside where they will not expose their kids to secondhand smoke.

How could this possibly be the right thing for the health of California's children? Why would it be a good thing for other cities to follow this unhealthful lead?

The last thing in the world that public health practitioners and physicians should want is to ban smoking outdoors so that parents are forced to smoke inside where their kids will be exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke. I can't think of too many worse policies that could be proposed. Thus, I think it is a shame that the CMA is supporting this proposal.

It makes you wonder whether they have actually taken a look at the idea and thought about it or whether this is just knee-jerk support for another anti-smoking proposal. Do anti-smoking groups actually analyze public policy any more, or do they simply put their support behind anything that puts limits on smoking? Is public health really the driving force here, or is it more just a desire to punish smokers and keep them away from the public view?

A basic ethical principle of medical and public health practice is "First, to do no harm." The Belmont proposal would do harm. It would harm many children by increasing their exposure to secondhand smoke. Thus, how can the CMA, or any anti-smoking group, possibly justify supporting this proposal?

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