Friday, February 20, 2009

Car Driver Receives Ticket for Smoking in Car With Minor as Minor Lights Up Cigarette

The Globe and Mail is reporting that an Ontario driver was "nabbed" for smoking in a car with a minor under a recently enacted provincial law. While the driver was waiting to receive his $155 ticket, the minor got out of the car and lit up a cigarette. Since there is no law prohibiting minors from smoking, the girl was not doing anything illegal. However, the driver was charged with violation of the provincial law that is intended to protect minors from exposure to secondhand smoke.

The Rest of the Story

This story is a perfect illustration of the reason why I have opposed these types of laws. The state either has or has not a justification for intervening into parental autonomy to make decisions regarding the health risks to which their children are exposed. If the state is justified in telling parents that they cannot expose their children to the increased disease risk that comes with exposure to secondhand smoke in a car, then it is also justified (and even more appropriate) for the state to protect children from the even greater risks that come with exposure to smoking in the home and from active smoking itself.

Thus, if the government were truly interested in protecting minors from health risks, it would certainly want to prohibit parents from allowing their children to smoke. The driver in the above story would have been cited both for exposing the minor to secondhand smoke and for allowing the minor to smoke. In fact, the active smoking clearly represents a greater risk to her health than the secondhand smoke.

It is inconsistent for the government to isolate a single health risk to which many parents expose their children and to outlaw that particular risk, but to allow parents to expose their children to all other health risks. It suggests that something else is going on, other than simply a rational expression of health protection that is focused on what is in the best interests of the children.

The problem is precisely that once you agree that it is appropriate for the government to regulate parental decisions regarding health risks to which children are exposed, then there are a whole range of exposures - many which are much more hazardous than secondhand smoke - that should, to be rational and consistent, be regulated.

This story is an illustration not that the law isn't working, but that the law is inconsistent and somewhat irrational.

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