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Banning Smoking in Cars With Children: Moral and Legal Issues

Five states in America, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine and Oregon, and also Puerto Rico -- have made it a crime to smoke in cars when children are there, and more states are considering the adoption of this legislation as well. For instance, other nations such as Canada, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates are also leaning towards such a ban. The ban is viewed as beneficial in the sense that it not only protects children but it also minimizes the amount of accidents which will be derived from cigarette-related distractions, such as lighting, ashing or dropping them while driving ( However, the biggest impetus for this legislation is the desire to protect all innocent children from exposure to the hazards which are inherently connected to cigarettes and cigarette smoke. One of the inherent necessities of this issue is in connection with the fact that thousands of children die each year as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke (

Few people have a clear and cohesive understanding of what secondhand smoke actually is. "Secondhand smoke (SHS) is defined as a mixture of sidestream smoke from the end of a burning cigarette and exhaled mainstream smoke. The U.S. surgeon general concluded in 1986 that SHS exposure causes disease among nonsmokers.1 Since then, additional evidence has shown that SHS causes lung cancer, respiratory tract injury, heart disease, and sudden infant death syndrome. More than 50 carcinogens have been identified in SHS. Inhaled fresh sidestream smoke is also about 4 times more toxic than mainstream smoke" (Jarvie & Malone, 2008). Children however, still remain exposed to it, because so many of the adults in their lives continue to make bad or careless decisions regarding their health. Many adult smokers lack the education or the overall sense of urgency regarding the needs of children when it comes to clean air and lungs and how so many of these children simply can't tolerate what is actually a pretty intense and noxious toxin.

Ethical and Legal Issues at Stake

One of the central moral issues at the center of this debate is the fact that children do not have the same level of choice and freedom as adults do. For example, some experts even point out that the ban on smoking in bars is so backwards, because adults always have a choice on whether or not to enter a bar, or can always chose bars which don't have smoking or which have separate sections for smokers, and can move away from smokers if necessary ( Adults simply have a greater level of agency when it comes to limiting or abolishing their exposure to cigarette smoke -- a fact which makes the ban on smoking in bars almost silly, and not as crucial or necessary as banning smoking on cars -- since children have nowhere near as much autonomy as adults.

"On the other hand, children - who are far more sensitive to tobacco smoke because their lungs and the bodily defense mechanisms are still developing, because they inhale far more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults, and because they are more likely to have allergies or other conditions which make them more sensitive to airborne pollutants - have no choice but to be strapped into rolling smokehouses with one or more smoking adults. They cannot refuse to go, cannot get out of the car if necessary, cannot move away from the source of the smoke, and no one will hear or heed their cries" ( While such a sentiment might sound dramatic to some, it accurately captures the true injustice of the situation. Children are so beholden to the adults in their lives, that they really have no choice but to hope these adults make the most responsible decisions regarding their health and wellness. However, when it comes to addiction and to addictive substances, adults will often just do as they please, and consider that opening a window in the car will be sufficient ventilation for the child. When adults act irresponsibly or without care for heeding the safety of their children, then without question it is up to the law to step in. In fact, one could argue that the law has no choice but to step in. Adults have the ability to protect themselves against cigarette smoke in ways that children do not and cannot. The government has the responsibility to provide such protection.

Another issue which cannot be denied is the fact that the child's lung doesn't have the strength to tolerate such toxins. The lungs of children are still developing. They're not as strong as adults. Furthermore, studies have shown that even smokers believe that children should be protected from the toxins of secondhand smoke: 60% of smokers asserted that they would support a ban on smoking in cars that contained children (healthday, 2013). This is particularly revelatory, given the fact that 84% of former smokers asserted the same, along with 87% of those who have never smoked (healthday, 2013). The fact that there is such a profoundly high level of support for such a ban, but only bans in place in seven states, demonstrates a government which is out of touch with its people. Doctors are aware that asthma is a common childhood affliction and when exposed to something like secondhand smoke, it means that the lungs are going to flare up as they are particularly fragile. While it's true that the number of people has dropped dramatically in the last 50 years, secondhand smoke continues to be a major health risk for so many people, particularly children (healthday, 2013).

People who are largely in support of this legislation say that this type of governmental interference is necessary as it signifies that there are too many instances where children are at risk of real harm: "Parents or guardians have the moral and legal responsibility to act in the child's best interest. When questions arise regarding conflicts of interest or the wisdom of the parents' or guardians' choices, the scope of their authority may require legal limitation" (Jarvie & Malone, 2008). Thus, one can conclude that a parent, who smokes in front of their children, particularly when the child is in a locked automobile, is not in the best interest of the child: thus it becomes a situation where government intervention through legislation like this is necessary.

Furthermore, legislation like this helps to limit the amount that children see their parents smoke. Allowing parents to smoke in front of their children while their driving means that smoking once again becomes a more normalized action for kids to see and interpret. One could argue that if a kid has parents for smokers, the most ideal scenario would be to limit the child's exposure of the parents smoking as much as possible. Yet another compelling reason to ban cigarette smoking in cars when children are present is that the act also promotes irresponsible driving, and allows children to believe that various forms of distracted driving are okay.

Reasons against the Ban

However, one aspect of this ban that surprises many people is that not everyone is in favor of it. For instance, there are a wide range of laws that mean well and are in existence to support the public good, but they also undermine all the good that they're trying to achieve. "Philip Johnston, in his excellent book Bad Laws, demonstrated that an unintended effect of the ban on smoking in pubs was to expose children to more smoke than before, because pub drinkers were forced back into the home. Similarly, cigarette-smoking is more visible than ever before on our streets because smokers have been driven out of offices and public buildings" (Brown, 2014). What this remark centers around is the fact that there are a lot of reasonable people who care very deeply for the livelihood and safety of children and who don't support the ban. And this is because the ban represents a very essential principle which is at stake: many people don't want to live in a nation where the level of state interference is just so aggravated. Many of these educated people who care about children simply don't want to live in a state where state interference is so pervasive as in the private spaces of people's cars.

Many of those who vehemently do not support this legislation view the claim about "protecting children" as a mere Trojan horse designed simply to disarm the opposition, just as passive smoking once was there to do (Brown, 2014). For example, many people feel that the lexicon of "passive smoking" was just more jargon and leverage used to justify the intense smoking ban. Many of these dissenters do illuminate, and illuminate quite succinctly that if legislators were able to ban smoking in cars in the name of protecting innocent third parties, where would it all end? Many experts fearfully assert that there might not be any reason why the…[continue]

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