Rx for Readers

Secondhand smoke may cause sudden infant death syndrome.

I regard the proposal to ban smoking in cars occupied by children to be an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy and autonomy of parenthood. It should be done only when there is a substantial threat of severe harm to the child. If an infant is riding in a car without a car seat, there is a substantial threat of severe harm should the car be involved in an accident. The connection between not being in the car seat and suffering severe injury or death in an accident is direct, immediate and definitive. But exposure to secondhand smoke in a car in most cases merely poses an increased risk of upper respiratory or middle ear infection. The likelihood, more often than not, is that the child will not suffer any harm. There is no certainty of harm, nor is there any substantial threat of severe harm. Simply placing children at an increased risk of more minor health effects is not something for which there is a legitimate government interest in interfering with parental autonomy. If we go this far, we would have to ban parents from smoking in the home, drinking more than a drink or two, using insecticides and pesticides, allowing their children out in the sun without sunscreen, letting them ride roller-coasters, serving them foods containing trans-fats or peanuts before age three. What is it about smoking that, among all of the many health risks to which parents often expose their children, it is the only one to be regulated? I'm afraid that the anti-smoking movement is starting to moralize. We are starting to try to dictate societal morals rather than to stick to legitimate public health protection. - T.L., Ontario, Canada Attorney Amos Hausner, the country's most veteran smoking cessation activist and chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, comments: There is no need to detail the hazards of secondhand smoke, particularly to children. It includes damage to the DNA, causing irreparable genetic harm. It may cause sudden infant death syndrome. Most trips in the car end with no accidents, and if the child is not wearing a seat belt, there is no harm. But a child's continuous exposure to the toxins of tobacco causes accumulative and irreversible damage from diseases for which modern science has no cure. Forcing children to inhale secondhand smoke in the small area inside a car poses lethal risk and is undoubtedly child abuse. This exposure to the toxins of secondhand smoke is far greater than the risk of being involved in a road accident; yet parents must see to it that their children use safety belts. In the case of the safety belt, the parent has to act, to do something. In the case of smoking, it is a duty to refrain from emitting dangerous substances directly into the lungs of the helpless child. The Knesset decided 33 years ago that children must be protected by seat belts; it is time to recognize their right to be protected in 2008 from the poisons of tobacco. Laws can punish parents for leaving their children in the car alone for only a few moments, even if nothing happens. Society interferes to protect children from domestic violence and parental abuse, even and especially when the abuser is the parent. Last August, a court determined in Ofir v. Rosetti that involuntary smoking amounts to assault. If this is the case among adults, this is certainly true with helpless children. Smoking by drivers is a major cause of road accidents, as their attention is focused on handling the tobacco product and not on the road - and smoking by a passenger emits substances that may make the driver nauseous, give him a headache and interfere with his driving. Last summer, the Transportation Ministry placed radio announcements calling on drivers not to smoke while driving. It should be banned altogether and not be voluntary. By reasonable criteria, cars - like taxis - are public places and should be treated as such, including a ban on smoking inside them. Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to [email protected], giving your initials, age and residence.