March 18, 2010

Ban smoking in homes with kids

— An editorial Jan. 22 (''Ban smoking in cars with kids, and what comes next?'') takes a dim view of a legislative effort to ban smoking in cars that have children in them.

The problem the paper has with the effort lies in the perception such a ban might be the entrance to a slippery slope, an incremental erosion of rights that would eventually lead to the prohibition of smoking in houses where there are children.

The next step, the editorial suggests, would be the outright banning of smoking, everywhere, period.

Why, exactly, would this be a problem?

While it is often argued that smoking is a personal choice and a habit that hurts no one but the smoker, the scientific evidence states otherwise.

Smoking is an addiction that trumps personal choice, and which costs the taxpayers and insurance industry billions a year in health care costs.

Smokers aren't just jeopardizing their health -- they are also putting the people around them at risk.

This discussion is not about smokers' rights -- it's about the secondhand smoke.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Kids in cars and homes where people are smoking are unavoidably exposed to secondhand smoke, and many are getting sick from it.

When a person lights up in a car or house when children are present, they are essentially sharing their smoking habit with their kids, just as certainly as if you gave them a cigarette of their own. As the editorial suggests, such behavior is almost abuse.

Why wouldn't it make sense to ban such a practice?

Studies have shown that secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to children because it can damage developing organs, decrease lung efficiency and function. In children under age 2, exposure to secondhand smoke increases their risk for developing bronchitis and pneumonia.

In children of all ages, exposure to secondhand smoke worsens the symptoms of asthma, and this is a problem of particular concern in Maine, which the highest rate of asthma in the nation.

Secondhand smoke can also increase lower respiratory tract infections and the risk for middle ear infections.

The smoke is particularly unhealthy when exposure is in confined spaces and is prolonged. Secondhand smoke also triples an infant's risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

And, we cannot forget, kids don't have a choice to avoid this exposure to smoke.

They depend on their parents to transport them to and from school, other activities, and home. They cannot simply move to another room, or opt for another car.

Is it fair that they are essentially forced to incur severe health consequences, just because their parents or caregivers choose to light up?

It is a parent's responsibility to protect his or her kids from preventable exposure to health risks.

If the parent fails to fulfill that responsibility, society has a legitimate interest in intervening to protect the health of the kids, and to protect itself from incurring future costs in the form of treatments for asthma, allergies, cancer and many other conditions.

Smoking in the presence of children -- or non-smoking adults, for that matter -- is a practice that should be banned in cars, homes and public places.

— Special to the Press Herald

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