Friday, November 14, 2008

Smokers to Be Banned from Fostering or Adopting Children in Several Districts in Scotland

Following the lead of authorities in a London district, which - as I revealed last week - is banning fostering by smokers, several councils in Scotland are considering policies which ban smokers from either fostering or adopting children.

Last week, I revealed that the East London Borough of Redbridge is considering a new policy which would prohibit anyone who smokes from becoming a foster parent. That policy was adopted in a vote last Tuesday.

This week, The Scotsman reports that three councils in Scotland - Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire - are considering policies that would prohibit smokers from either fostering or adopting children under the age of five or any child with a physical or medical disability.

One of the arguments used by health advocates to support the policy is that: "We know that children whose parents smoke are 1.5 times more likely to develop asthma and we consider it vitally important to reduce this risk to children."

Not everyone quoted in the article was in support of the proposed policy. "Maggie Mellon, a spokeswoman for Children 1st Scotland, warned that by focusing on parents, the council could be seen to be judging adults rather than protecting children. She said: "You can be a smoker and a good parent, the thing is not to inflict the smoking on the child. What is the lesser of two evils – a child stuck in a care home or a loving parent who commits to never smoking in the house?"

The Rest of the Story

The argument that smokers need to be banned from fostering or adopting children because children whose parents smoke have a 1.5 times higher risk of developing asthma is a poor one. There are many health risks to which parents may expose their children, and I'm not aware of any other risk for which parents are completely banned - categorically - from adopting children.

Using wood stoves increases the risk of childhood illness - probably by even more than a factor of 1.5 based on some studies - yet these councils are not banning parents who have wood stoves from adopting or fostering children.

Children whose parents drink alcohol are also at increased risk of medical problems, but I don't see the councils banning parents who drink alcohol from fostering or adopting children.

Parents who take their children out frequently for fast food and do not serve them healthy foods greatly increase their children's risk of obesity and other medical problems. But I don't see any proposal for a ban on parents who eat frequently at fast food restaurants.

The one legitimate ground for precluding a smoker from adopting or fostering a child would be if that child has a condition such as asthma which would be exacerbated by tobacco smoke and the parent does not agree to smoke outside the house and otherwise ensure that the child is protected from tobacco smoke exposure. But the point is this: these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. Just as all other parental health behaviors are judged on a case-by-case basis.

The interesting aspect of this story to me is why smoking is being treated differently from all other health behaviors. And I can only conclude that the reason is that smokers have become marginalized citizens: an easy target for health authorities who want to make it look like they are really doing something to protect children's health. In the mean time, there are all kinds of horror stories about actual physical and sexual abuse going on and these very same authorities have often been negligent in acting quickly enough (or at all) in addressing these problems.

Most importantly, these categorical bans on smokers demonstrate a narrow view which fails to consider what is in the best interests of the child. As Ms. Mellon pointed out, is it really in the best interests of a child to be stuck in a care home rather than being placed with a person who happens to smoke and agrees not to smoke around the child?

Apparently, smokers are not to be trusted. Even if they agree not to smoke around the child, that is somehow not enough. Apparently, all smokers are liars.

I think this is what bothers me the most. Unlike nonsmokers whom we trust and whom we view as being honest people with whom we can discuss and negotiate various conditions, smokers are apparently all liars who cannot be trusted. We must set categorical restrictions on smokers adopting or fostering children.

Smokers are being treated as second-class citizens who are so abnormal and reviled that they clearly cannot possibly be honest or sincere in their intentions and statements.

I am beginning to be able to really sympathize with smokers and to see how this treatment by institutions in our society really marginalizes them and makes them feel like social outcasts or pariahs. Were I a smoker, this would probably make me angry and motivate me to identify even more strongly as a smoker and to resolve even more strongly to continue smoking. Any desire to quit would be tempered by the viciousness of these anti-smoking advocates and their bigotry. I am starting to really see where many of my readers are coming from.

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