According to a top doc in Britain, smoking in the car with children is child abuse. Well, that’s what the article’s title says but the article doesn’t quote him as saying that. I am actually not entirely unsympathetic to this argument as such. It seems to me that smoking in a car with young children does present a health hazard and while in the absence of laws banning smoking in restaurants (for instance) that adults can avoid, the children are captives. Cars are pretty small and can get really smokey really quickly if the windows aren’t more than just cracked open. When I was a kid, Mom would open the windows unless it was raining outside in which case the car would just get really, really smokey.

The doc goes a bit further, though, in arguing the same is true for parents that smoke at home in front of their children. This has got me thinking about some of Sheila’s recent post about the CPS and pot and makes me wonder when we will approach the day when smoking inside the home or in front of the children will be considered some sort of abuse. I think we’re a long ways off from that, but as smoking becomes more and more something that poor and dysfunctional people do, I could genuinely see it happening. Even if the smoking itself isn’t considered so terrible (for the kids), it could be one of those things that gets the CPS’s attention. And it seems that as I learn more about the process, the best way to deal with the CPS is to avoid their attention in the first place.

But I found this comment to be bizarre:

“Evidence from the US indicates that more young children are killed by parental smoking than by all other unintentional injuries combined.”

Errr… by what measure, exactly? Smoking isn’t one of those things that kills you on the spot. Generally speaking. Second-hand smoke even less so. So how is it killing young children? How is it doing so more than all other injuries combined? The only way I can think of this being remotely true is if you count deaths that occur later by conditions incurred when they are young children. Or maybe smoking when the child is in the womb making the infant’s life a very short one. Even so… all others combined?! In the first case, how do you control for other variables such as the fact that children of smokers are more likely to become smokers themselves (due not only to parental example, but genetics)? All others combined?! I have to think that swimming pools, sports injuries, and (these days) extreme food allergies would be larger threats.

Maybe I’m missing something, but without elaboration it strikes me as a number of other “health facts” that I heard growing up that were and are transparently false. I remember being told in the 5th grade that second-hand smoke was actually more dangerous than first-hand. That could only be true if you’re looking at second-hand smoke affecting more people, but that did not seem to be what they meant. Besides which, I am willing to bet in a household of four where one party smoked and the other three did not that the first is more likely to die from tobacco-related illness than the other three combined despite the 3-to-1 ratio. There is a world of difference between breathing something in the air and sucking it straight into your lungs. It, like the doc’s quote, strikes me as one of those things you say to reinforce the point that smoking is not a strictly private behavior. But it does not have the benefit of being credible. At least not without a thorough explanation of how you’re assessing comparative danger.


Category: Hospital, Newsroom

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5 Responses to Smoking & Child Abuse

  1. Petronella says:

    Maybe the reported child deaths are being caused by burns and smoke inhalation? Smoking inside is a big cause of house fires. Although the (admittedly very few) adults I know who still smoke, only do it outside, never in the home. Maybe the “number-one cause of child death” figure being quoted is a couple of decades old, dating back to the times when it was more common to smoke in the kitchen near open flame, fall asleep smoking in bed, etc. Indoor smoking is also one reason why we are still exhorted to buy all new, “non-flammable” clothing for babies and young children, to the point where some parents actually believe it’s illegal to let their children sleep in ordinary t-shirts.

  2. trumwill says:

    Yeah, fire was about the only thing I could think of… but even then I have difficulty believing that was ever a #1 cause of young children deaths. Even twenty years ago seems like a real stretch, but I am just old enough to remember the flammability scares of yesteryear.

    It’s interesting the cultural shift on smoking over the last decade or two. Not just the laws passed, but smoking inside the home went from common to very, very rare. My mother quit smoking for almost a year. When she started back up again, she would brave the humid Gulf Coast heat rather than smoke indoors and she doesn’t smoke in cars anymore, either. I also quit smoking in my car some time ago.

  3. Peter says:

    Secondary smoking is regarded as irrelevant from a life/health/disability insurance underwriting standpoint. A nonsmoker will get nonsmoking rates even if it is known that he or she lives in a houseful of smokers. Actuarial statistics show no increased risk at all.

  4. trumwill says:

    Peter, thanks for your comment. Yet another reason to be skeptical of the wild claims about second-hand smoke.

  5. Kirk says:

    I remember an episode of South Park that confronted the idea that it’s okay to lie for a good cause. In addition to inflating the dangers of second-hand smoke, the guy who insisted lying was noble had a poster of the twin towers in flames with a pot leaf in the foreground–as if pot smoking caused 9/11.

    I’ll be damned if I can remember the episode, or even the season. Regardless, the anti-smoking people quite definitely believe in lying for a good cause: especially if the “good cause” allows them to increase the budget of whatever organization they’re running.

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