Don’t smoke ’em if you got kids

Twice a week my wife and I volunteer to do reading with my son’s kindergarten class. One by one the kids come into an adjoining room, choose a book and sit down and read with one of us. Recently, while reading with one of the kids, I began to notice the strong smell of cigarette smoke. The smell of smoke was not only evident on the child’s clothing, but could also be found on the folder containing the reading log that the students take home with them each night. Since we generally begin reading with the kids just after the school day begins, it is obvious that either this 5 year old is being exposed to secondhand smoke at home, or on the car ride to school.

Aside from my disgust with parents that would knowingly expose their children to smoke, and my frustration with the lack of recourse.1 But, I thought that maybe this was a topic that needed a philosophic debate. In the past I have written on school uniforms and religion and education and initially thought that there was something here that deserved the same sort of treatment—except that it doesn’t. To have a debate, there needs to be a genuine conflict of values. There can be legitimate disagreement about the extent of parental rights when it comes the religion and their children. We can debate whether children have a right to express themselves through clothing. What isn’t up for debate is whether parents have the right to expose their children to secondhand smoke—they don’t. In this case, the evidence is clear:

  1. At least 69 chemicals in secondhand smoke are known to cause cancer, including arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde.

  2. Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in nonsmokers.

  3. Secondhand smoke has also been associated with heart disease in adults and sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, and asthma attacks in children.

  4. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.2

I don’t believe anyone would reasonably hold that a parent has a right to feed his or her child small a amounts of arsenic day-after-day. So, no paper on this topic….but I do see a letter to a state senator or state representative in my future.

  1. There are currently no laws in Ohio that prohibits smoking around children (unless one runs a daycare center) nor is there any law that equates smoking around children with child abuse or neglect.


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