Monday, January 21, 2008

Washington State Anti-Smoking Groups Supporting Feel Good Measure that Protects Nobody; Hypocrisy Running Rampant

Three Washington State anti-smoking groups -- the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Heart Association -- are supporting a proposed state law that would ban smoking in cars with children present, but which makes the violation a secondary offense (meaning that police could not enforce the law unless a driver is pulled over for some other reason).

According to an article in the Seattle Times: "Some lawmakers want to extend the state's smoking ban to inside your car — at least when children are there. Two bills in the Legislature would make it a traffic infraction to smoke in a car carrying children. House Bill 2519 would outlaw smoking around passengers younger than 18, while Senate Bill 6287 sets the age limit at 13 or younger. The proposals are aimed at protecting kids from secondhand smoke, which has been linked to asthma, cancer and other ailments. ... Both bills would make the infraction a secondary offense, meaning a law-enforcement officer would have to stop a driver for another infraction, such as speeding, before issuing a smoking citation. The smoking infractions wouldn't become part of the driver's record or be made available to insurance companies or employers. The legislation has widespread support, including from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association."

The Rest of the Story

The anti-smoking groups' support for this measure is one of the most hypocritical stances I have observed in the tobacco control movement. These groups are taking the position that exposing children to secondhand smoke in a car is intolerable and must be strictly regulated by the government. However, it is apparently not so bad that we would want to actually be able to enforce the law.

The American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Heart Association should make up their minds. If secondhand smoke exposure of children is really so unacceptable that we need to intervene in private cars to regulate this risk, then they should support legislation that allows for the enforcement of the law. And for that matter, they should promote legislation which bans smoking in homes with children present, since that is the primary source of tobacco smoke exposure for children.

The current stance of these groups appears to be merely a feel-good one: they can feel good about doing something and tell their constituents that they have achieved legislation, but in reality, the legislation does nothing to protect anyone.

On a broader note, it is really disillusioning to me that there appears to be such a lack of principle in the anti-smoking movement today. Don't these groups actually stand for something anymore? Aren't there principles that these groups are willing to support? Or has it all deteriorated into a hypocritical game that is motivated more by politics than by science and public health principles?

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