Monday, February 07, 2011

Canadian Cancer Society Willing to Allow Kids to Be Harmed by Smoking in Homes, But Not Cars: Stand Reveals Hypocrisy of Anti-Smoking Movement

The Canadian Cancer Society has called for all provinces to ban smoking in cars carrying children ages 17 and younger.

According to an article in the Calgary Herald, Ashley Jensen, the cancer society's regional community engagement co-ordinator stated: "It's unfortunate to see Alberta falling behind on tobacco when even our neighbours, B.C. and Saskatchewan, have moved forward with legislation. This is about protecting kids from preventable death, disease and disability."

According to the article: "Alberta is lagging when it comes to discouraging cigarette smoking in vehicles carrying children, says the Canadian Cancer Society. All provinces have laws prohibiting smoking in public places. However, only six provinces and the Yukon territory have legislation banning smoking in vehicles with children. Alberta is among four provinces and two territories that haven't made it illegal for drivers to smoke in vehicles carrying children under the age of 18. ... The Canadian Cancer Society says children exposed to tobacco smoke face an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infection, middle ear disease and an increased severity of asthma. ... Two Alberta communities have bylaws against smoking in vehicles with kids. Okotoks passed its legislation in 2008, and Leduc's bylaw takes effect in July. Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke said the cancer society sparked the regulation change during a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference last year in Toronto."

The Rest of the Story

If the Canadian Cancer Society means what it is saying and believes that as a principle, the government must intervene to protect children from exposure to secondhand smoke caused by their own parents, then why is it promoting a ban on smoking in cars, but not in homes where the overwhelming majority of infant and childhood secondhand smoke exposure occurs?

If banning parents from smoking in their own cars is necessary to protect infants and children from dying due to SIDS or from developing asthma and lower respiratory tract infections, then what possible justification is there for allowing these same infants and children to be exposed to secondhand smoke in the home?

It seems to me that this is a hypocritical stand by the Canadian Cancer Society. It is fine, their position infers, for parents to smoke around their kids in the home. It is only in cars that secondhand smoke is a problem. By what law of nature does secondhand smoke in cars affect the health of children, but secondhand smoke in the home present no health risks?

The position of the Canadian Cancer Society is not only unsupported by science, but it is also an example of the political cowardice that afflicts the modern-day tobacco control movement. The Cancer Society is allowing politics to influence its position on issues of science and health, in contrast to its public statements which imply that health is the only legitimate concern here.

In other words, the Canadian Cancer Society is full of hypocrisy. They are criticizing others for putting politics above health and science, yet they are doing precisely the same thing in not calling for a ban on smoking in homes with children.

As I've made clear before, my own position is that while secondhand smoke is a significant health risk for infants and children and it is quite unfortunate that many children are exposed, it is simply not justified for the government to interfere with parental autonomy by banning smoking in private homes and cars to protect kids from their parents' behavioral decisions. I fully support interventions to reduce childhood exposure to secondhand smoke, but these should rely on education and health communication campaigns, not state coercion.

But regardless of one's position on the issue, the point of this commentary is simply that the Canadian Cancer Society, like its counterpart in the U.S., is full of hypocrisy. They are criticizing others for considering concerns other than health and science, yet they are doing precisely the same thing.

At this point, I'd settle for a principled stand on either side of the issue. Either opine that the government has a legitimate justification to interfere with parental autonomy and privacy to protect kids from health risks and support a ban on all smoking in the presence of children or declare that the government is not justified in such a usurpation of parental autonomy. But don't pretend to be standing up for a principle when in fact, you are violating the very principle for which you claim to be standing up.

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