Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anti-Smoking Advocate Says Smokers are a Bad Role Model for their Children

Russell Sciandra, a leading lobbyist with the New York State chapter of the American Cancer Society, is quoted in the Boston Herald Wednesday as calling smokers poor role models for their children.

According to the article, Sciandra stated: "Parents who smoke are a poor role model for their children."

The quote was apparently in response to a media inquiry related to the all-important story of Britney Spears and her parenting skills. The latest in the saga: Britney was apparently caught on camera smoking in the presence of young Sean Preston. Spears has lost primary custody of her 2 1/2 year-old son and has been criticized in the media for a number of poor parenting episodes, including driving with her son on her lap without a seatbelt, and for his fall from a high chair requiring an emergency room visit.

The Rest of the Story

This was an unnecessary cheap shot. Well ... that's how I see it.

You see ... I actually thought about what I might say to the reporter if she had called me instead. The reason? I got a call from the Boston University media office during the day yesterday. The reporter had wanted to speak to me to get a quote for this story. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me), I was busy and unable to provide a quote so instead she relied on this quote from Russ Sciandra.

Had the reporter talked to me, I would have stated that what Britney Spears, or any other parent, does in terms of raising their children is their own business (as long as it does not involve abuse or neglect) and that there are probably more serious threats to Sean Preston's well-being than his being exposed to tobacco smoke.

It appears that Russ used the opportunity, instead, to take a pot shot at all smokers.

Now I take issue with his statement, because while I think that smoking (the behavior) certainly does not set a great example, smokers (the parents themselves) are by no means poor role models for their children simply because they smoke. There are a heck of a lot of more important factors in whether parents are good role models for their children than whether or not they smoke.

To name just a few, I would say that how much the parents love their kids and show them love, the values they teach their kids, and the example they set for them in terms of morals such as compassion, kindness, honesty, respect, and tolerance are perhaps some of the most important factors in terms of whether I would consider a parent to be a good role model for their children.

To look only at smoking and state that if someone smokes, they are a poor role model for their child, regardless of all these other factors, seems to me to be narrow-minded and self-righteous.

And once again, it is making a moral issue out of what is merely a health issue.

Are parents who eat hamburgers bad role models for their children? What about parents who are fat? Those who often forget to take their medication? Those who aren't screened regularly for cancer? How about those who do not get enough physical activity? Those who watch movies that have violence in them?

If parents who smoke are categorically poor role models for their kids, then so are parents who engage in all these other unhealthy activities.

But to call a parent a poor role model because of these other activities seems absurd. That's because we don't ascribe moral value to most health behaviors. But for some reason, anti-smoking advocates are now trying to ascribe moral value to the decision whether or not to smoke.

How can we possibly do that? The decision is usually made not in adulthood, but in childhood. As anti-smoking advocates, we ourselves emphasize that these decisions are usually not based on informed, adult, rational decision-making processes, but instead occur during childhood - at least the decision to initiate smoking. Then we argue that the decision to continue smoking is largely influenced by nicotine and addiction. So how can we then turn around and say that smoking is a moral issue and the decision to smoke is an immoral one?

I reject this anti-smoking advocate's view of the smoker because I reject the notion that someone who smokes is automatically a poor role model for children. Some of the best role models for children happen to be smokers. I don't think the smoking or not smoking has anything to do with it. It's a health issue, not one of character or integrity.

I don't understand why this anti-smoking advocate, and many others like him, insist upon portraying smoking as an issue of integrity and character, rather than as simply a health-related behavior.

Now I regret that I wasn't available to speak to the reporter. Because I would have preferred that a message of tolerance and respect be delivered rather than one of moral condemnation. Plus, it would have been awesome to tell my friends that when the media need an expert to comment about the Britney Spears saga, they turn to me for answers.

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