Monday, February 17, 2014

Are You a Smoker Who Has Been Awarded Child Custody? Some Anti-Smoking Advocates Want Your Children Taken Away from You

A prominent anti-smoking advocate is urging that judges revoke child custody of smokers, even if they never smoke in the presence of their children.

According to a press release issued by Professor John Banzhaf at the George Washington University Law School: "Smokers who have been awarded full or partial custody of their children, or even simple visitation privileges, in a divorce proceeding could lose custody or have their rights curtailed as the result of a new report showing that tobacco smoke residue on furniture, rugs, draperies, etc. - often called "third-hand tobacco smoke" - can be as hazardous to a child's health as secondhand tobacco smoke, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has helped obtain court orders prohibiting smoking in private homes in dozens of states."

Banzhaf is not happy with court orders that prevent smokers from smoking in the presence of their children, or even orders that require a 48-hour period of not smoking in the home prior to child visitation. Instead, a complete denial of custody to smokers may be justified, he argues, because of the recent research he alleges shows that thirdhand smoke is as harmful as secondhand smoke.

Banzhaf writes: "judicial orders, banning smoking in homes while the child is present and for a reasonable period before visitation, are designed to protect the child from the well known hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke, and have been issued in about three fourths of all the states over a period of some 20 years. But these judicial protective orders, in many states now being issued routinely, may no longer be sufficient to adequately protect a child, according to a new study at the University of California, Riverside, which found that third-hand smoke can be just as deadly as secondhand smoke." ...

"The Riverside scientists reported that third-hand smoke has been found to persist in houses, apartments and hotel rooms long after smokers move out. They say that their research shows that children in environments where smoking has been allowed in the past are still at “significant risk” for suffering from multiple health problems, "many of which may not manifest fully until later in life."

And here's the clincher:

"Prof. Banzhaf explains that this new study would provide a legal basis for a nonsmoking parent to reopen and modify a custody proceeding by arguing that a temporary ban on tobacco use by the smoking parent, or other smoking resident of the home, provides insufficient protection for the child's health. He said he would be willing to work with and assist attorneys seeking to reopen custody determinations on that legal basis. Once accepted by the courts, this new argument, and the scientific research supporting it, could result in parents who continue to smoke losing custody or visitation rights they may have previously enjoyed."

The Rest of the Story

I find this to be a disturbing and disgusting story. The idea that a child should be taken away from a loving parent, with whom a judge has ruled custody is in the best interests of that child's welfare, simply because John Banzhaf despises smokers is appalling. Don't let the false pretenses divert you. The real issue here is hatred of smokers and a desire to punish them.

There is no credible evidence that thirdhand smoke is as dangerous as secondhand smoke. In fact, there is no existing evidence that thirdhand smoke poses any health hazard for anyone other than an infant who may be crawling on the floor and ingesting dirt. And even in that situation, there is no evidence that the exposure is more harmful than secondhand smoke exposure, or that it even comes close to approaching that level of risk.

As I have explained earlier, the UC Riverside study is not credible. The researchers have made wild extrapolations from effects observed in mice. Moreover, they reached their conclusions prior to even beginning their laboratory studies. That Professor Banzhaf wants to take this junk science and use it to try to take children away from their loving parents, merely because they smoke, is despicable.

Essentially, what Banzhaf's argument means is that a parent being a smoker would be sufficient grounds for denying child custody. Why? Because thirdhand smoke is completely unavoidable if the parent smokes. Even if the smoker only smokes outside the home, he or she cannot possibly prevent thirdhand smoke exposure. Smoke deposits on the clothes and skin of a smoker. By virtue of being a smoker, that parent is going to expose the child to some degree of thirdhand smoke. So once a judge decides that a parent can be denied child custody due to thirdhand smoke exposure, it opens the door to denial of custody based solely on the fact that a parent is a smoker.

I should also add that by Banzhaf's reasoning, any parent who has a wood stove in the house should be denied child custody because there is strong evidence that wood stoves expose children to harmful chemicals. In fact, the scientific evidence for the harms of wood smoke is much stronger than that for the harms of thirdhand smoke.

Professor Banzhaf's advocacy of removing children from parents on the sole basis of the parent being a smoker is bad enough, but even worse is the complete silence of the rest of the tobacco control movement on this issue. Not a single one of the major, national tobacco control groups has spoken out in opposition to Banzhaf's suggested policy. Nor has any of the prominent tobacco control advocates in leadership positions in the movement spoken out to condemn this action.

Unfortunately, tacit disapproval is tantamount to support. The only way to put an end to this kind of nonsense is for anti-smoking groups to condemn it. That's not happening. Instead, the tobacco control groups are too busy trying to take away viable cessation options from smokers.

From inside the trenches, I can tell you that within the tobacco control movement, hatred for smokers is palpable. And sadly, it is driving our actions, positions, and policies.

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