Monday, September 24, 2012

Argument For Legislation Limiting Children's Exposure to Second Hand Smoke

Children and infants are especially susceptible to the effects of second hand cigarette smoke. This is because young children their lung capacity as related to their body weight is larger than that of an adult, their immune system is not as developed as that of an adult, and they are less likely to complain and/or remove themselves from the environment that causes the exposure. In other words, children are biologically geared to inhale more of the toxins present in cigarette smoke than their adult counterparts. Second hand smoke exposes children to a number of carcinogens (cancer causing substances), and when the environment is such that air flow is limited, such as inside a home or vehicle, those carcinogens are especially concentrated. There are more than four thousand substances present in tobacco smoke, more than forty of which are known carcinogens. These substances include formaldehyde, arsenic, vinyl chloride, lead, cadmium and nickel, as well as a host of other chemicals that are completely unpronounceable.
The effects of environmental tobacco smoke range from the relatively benign to serious health consequences. The irony of tobacco smoke is that the chemicals that are present in second hand smoke are often more concentrated than the smoke that a smoker takes into his or her lungs. Among the effects that second hand smoke has on children are increases in the frequency of upper and lower respiratory tract infections, an increase in the severity or frequency of existing asthma episodes and/or symptoms, a reduction in the flow of oxygen to tissues and reduced lung function in general, and an increase of fluid in the middle ear. Second hand smoke has also been associated with frequent ear infections, throat infections, an increase in the frequency and severity of colds and sore throats, poor or slowed growth, childhood cancers, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Second hand smoke is thought to be responsible for more than 10% of all cases of childhood asthma, more than 16% of all physician office visits for cough and more than 20% of all lung infections in children under the age of five. Smoking is also responsible for a number of children's deaths from cigarette-related home fire.
There is little doubt that adults are aware of the overall dangers of cigarette smoke. Less than 10% of individuals believe that second hand smoke presents no danger whatsoever to the non-smoker. However, many people are not aware of how the effects of second hand smoke are compounded in children. Because of the increased danger of tobacco smoke, several states are considering legislation that would ban smoking around children under a certain age (generally fifteen) in any enclosed area, especially a vehicle.
Arguably, smoking is not against the law for any individual over the age of eighteen. Therefore, many adults do not consider their smoking as anything other than a legal right. Any attempts to limit that right are generally met with significant resistance and protest. However, as cigarette smoke is so dangerous to others, especially children, it can be argued that the only way to prevent harmful effects to non-smokers is to effect legislation that limits the rights of smokers. To date, most states have initiated some form of indoor smoking bans. These bans have been met with protest and resistance from smokers and non-smokers alike. The smokers protest that they have a legal right to smoke and the non-smokers protest that the government is limiting the rights of the smoker, and that those limitations may lead to the limitation of other rights. Non-smokers that are in favor of legislation that limits the rights of smokers argue that the legislation would not deny the right of a smoker to smoke, but would instead enforce the right of the non-smoker to remain healthy. Much like the use of alcohol, the use of cigarettes would, under the enactment of such legislation, be legal only in the sense that such use would not violate the rights of others. As alcohol is legal only in as much as it does not endanger others, so would the use of tobacco be legal only in as much as it does not endanger others.
To date, Arkansas, Louisiana, Washington, Vermont, and Texas have already initiated some form of legislation that bans smoking around young children. Many states are ordering that children involved in custody disputes and/or divorce cases are provided with a smoke free environment. However, these cases are often the result of one parent complaining about the other parent's smoking around the children. Additionally, as the courts are intervening in a child's home environment, there the legal system must either stop requiring a smoking ban in such cases or that it must apply the ban uniformly across every household, not merely the ones involved in civil litigation. Children's rights groups are calling the exposure of young children to second hand smoke a form of child abuse and are rallying for legislation that limits the smoking of any individual around children. In Arkansas, any individual who is caught violating the ban against exposing children to second hand smoke can be fined $25, but can avoid the fine if they show proof of enrollment in a stop smoking program.
It can be argued that legislation that bans smoking around children, in cars, homes, or other enclosed areas, is a position that places the health of children above the bad habits of the adults that care for them and above the civil liberties of those adults. Regardless of their oppositions, adults must realize that current research overwhelmingly indicates that the effects of second hand smoke on children are predominantly negative and that these effects must be curbed in any way possible and as quickly as possible. With many states already employing statewide smoking bans that protect all non-smokers from the effects of tobacco smoke, it must be realized that states cannot enact such legislation without also considering what they can do to protect children. Smokers have been presented with the knowledge that second hand smoke is harmful to others for many years, yet parents and other caregivers continue to smoke around their young charges. Obviously, something other than educating smokers to the harmful effects must be done to prevent smoking around children.
It can be argued that such a ban would be inherently difficult to enforce. It has also been argued that seat belt laws and drunken driving laws would be difficult to enforce, yet fewer people drink and drive and more people buckle up on the nation's highways. However true the argument regarding enforcement is, remember it is often not the legal system itself that prevents individuals from violating ordinances such as smoking bans, drunken driving laws, and seat belt laws, but the fear of the legal repercussions of violating the laws. Additionally, many individuals have found that the enactment of smoking bans have given them the incentive they needed to stop smoking themselves, just as states' enactment of new seat belt regulations spurred more individuals to employ the use of their seat belts, regardless of their initial resentment of the legislation. For some people, the right to harm themselves just isn't worth the fight in the long run.

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