Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Health Officials Considering Smoking Bans in the Home to Protect Children from Secondhand Smoke Exposure

I guess that I have to say you told me so.

"You told me so."

Blog readers who predicted that car smoking bans to protect children from secondhand smoke were merely a prelude to smoking bans in the home were apparently correct.

Earlier this week, health officials in the North West of England revealed that they are considering plans to push for a ban on smoking in homes with children, according to an article in the Liverpool Daily Post.

According to the article: "Californian-style bans on smoking in homes where young children live are being considered by North West health bosses, the Daily Post can reveal. A high-level conference with health and public sector officials has decided that action needed to be taken to protect children who are “forcibly exposed” to second-hand smoke. Having successfully led the way in campaigning for a national smoking ban in public places, influential figures from the North West have now turned their attention to the other areas where children inhale tobacco fumes. One option raised at the conference, held in Manchester last week, was to campaign for legislation which bans smoking in homes where young children live. ... Speaking at the conference, Beverley Hughes, minister for children, young people and families said: “We have achieved a lot with the introduction of smoke-free public places, but smoking is still a major cause of preventable illness and early death for the people of the North West. “We need to drive home the message that it is unacceptable to expose children and young people to second-hand smoke.”"

The Rest of the Story

I have to admit that my blog readers were right when they opined that the push to ban smoking in cars with children was just a prelude to a more profoundly intrusive effort - that to ban smoking in the private home with children. It appears that the California-style car smoking ban idea has spread internationally, and has expanded to now include a consideration of banning smoking not only in private vehicles with children, but in the home as well.

I also have to admit that anti-smoking advocates who support such a policy are acting in a more consistent and less hypocritical manner than those who merely support a ban on smoking in cars. If you believe that it is reasonable for the government to interfere with parental autonomy merely to protect children from the risk of adverse health outcomes, then there is no reason to stop at banning smoking in private vehicles. In fact, secondhand smoke exposure in the home is a far more serious public health problem; thus, it becomes incumbent upon you to also promote smoking bans in the homes of children.

Alas - this is a line that we should not cross. Once we accept the responsibility of taking over parental autonomy regarding the health risks to which children are exposed in their own homes, we essentially destroy the concept of parental privacy, autonomy, and freedom.

If you are willing to control the behaviors of adults in their private home merely in order to reduce health risks for their children, then there is a whole slew of regulation that you should be willing to support, including restricting the amount and type of foods which parents can give their children, restricting the provision of alcohol by parents to their children, regulating the amount of time that children can be allowed to watch television and play video games, restricting the decision of parents to allow their children to view R-rated movies, regulating the use of sunscreen by children, and regulating the use of a huge number of indoor and outdoor chemical products by parents, such as pesticides, weed controlling products, and pest control products.

As unfortunate as it might be that some parents choose to smoke around their children, it is also unfortunate that some parents choose to serve their kids fast food most days of the week, increasing their risk of obesity and long-term health problems. We simply don't intervene to prevent parents from doing these types of unfortunate things. That's part of what it means to live in a free country where we grant parents autonomy over raising their children.

Educational and persuasive interventions to encourage parents not to smoke around their children are entirely appropriate. But coercive interventions that control parental behavior to reduce health risks like those from secondhand smoke, fatty foods, and household chemical products are not.

The art of public health is knowing when it's time for education and persuasion, and when it's time for coercion. What's most unfortunate is that the anti-smoking movement appears to have lost its ability to choose the right type of intervention for the situation. Blindness to everything but the cause is the hallmark of a crusade.

(Thanks to GreatScot for the tip).

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