Editorial – Up In Smoke

On October 10, the Governor of California signed a bill that bans adults from smoking in a vehicle carrying passengers under 18 years old. The law is scheduled to take effect January 1.

The Ontario Medical Association applauds the decision, and says that the province’s doctors will push for a similar ruling. For the sake of the kids, let’s hope It’s not too similar.

On the surface, the new legislation looks good. We all know tobacco products kill; even cigarette packages spell out the dangers.

And according to the OMA’s website, there’s no doubt that second-hand smoke is equally deadly. Bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), increased rates of adulthood heart disease and cancer: all these risks are associated with second-hand smoke (SHS). In an enclosed space such as a car, levels of SHS can be 23 times more toxic than in a house.

It makes sense, then, that adults should be prohibited from exposing kids to these health risks.

There are those who protest based on their right to privacy, on their right to parent without government interference. But if they’re going to protest the smoking ban, they ought to be just as vocal about other laws designed to protect kids from known toxins: It’s illegal to provide alcohol to minors; caregivers can be charged with negligence if their carelessness leads to a child taking poison or an illegal substance. The list goes on. The bottom line is that there are laws in place to protect kids from exposure to dangerous and potentially deadly substances. A proven carcinogen should be no different.

Yet while most people would agree that ensuring the well-being of children is important, Governor Schwarzenegger’s legislation makes it only a secondary offense, impossible to enforce unless a separate traffic infraction occurs.

In other words, if a police officer observes an adult smoking in a car that is also carrying a young child, he can’t enforce the law unless there’s another reason to pull the car over, such as an illegal turn or speeding.

To draw a parallel, It’s illegal to provide alcohol to a minor. It, along with SHS, carries known health risks, especially to children. Yet if enforcing that law was predicated on an adult committing another infraction before police could take action, there would be an immediate outcry. I’m not talking about police entering people’s homes without cause; if an adult in a car was seen handing a drink to a young child in plain sight, authorities wouldn’t be expected to wait until the vehicle made, say, an illegal left-hand turn before stepping in.

So while the headlines are congratulatory, they’re also premature. For all the hyperbole, the Terminator’s recent legislation amounts to little more than a feel-good gesture; one that isn’t going to do a whole lot to terminate smoking in cars with kids.

Let’s just hope that if Canadian legislators ever get around to enacting a similar law, It’s more than just smoke and mirrors.