Many people struggle with an addiction to smoking cigarettes and parents aren’t immune. As difficult as it may be for non-smokers to understand, quitting the habit doesn’t suddenly become easier just because you find out you’re pregnant or become a parent. Lots of people still light up around their kids, even though they’re well aware of the studies that prove it’s damaging not just for them, but also for their children. The question is, does that constitute abuse?
According to Science Daily, Adam Goldstein, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, says absolutely. In this month’s Annals of Family Medicine, Goldstein argues that subjecting kids to repeated exposure to secondhand smoke is no different than any other form of abuse and we should pressure legislators to label it as such.
“Purposeful and recurrent exposure of children to secondhand smoke by a parent is as abusive as many other commonly accepted physical and emotional traumas of children, like drunk driving or leaving children in a hot car unattended,” says Dr. Goldstein
A recent post on Babble argued against Dr. Goldstein’s point, with the author stating that even though his parents’ constant smoking contributed to his asthma and decreased lung capacity, he thinks it’s wrong to label smoking as abuse. His parents didn’t know better back then, he argues, and if we start legislating behaviors like smoking in your own home, we risk infringing on personal liberties in other ways.
I have trouble with the thought that the government can tell us what to do in our own homes. Today it’s cigarettes, what if tomorrow it’s soda and chips? Those cause diabetes. Should we ban parents from buying them too?
It might seem extreme to label parents abusive when their homes are otherwise loving and their kids are well cared for, but in this case Dr. Goldstein gets it right. The author of the Babble post may be able to make excuses for his parents’ smoking because he grew up in a different era, but we know better now. Also, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but cigarette smoke is nothing like chips and soda and that’s not really a ‘slippery slope’ we need to be concerned about.
The damaging effects of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are well-documented. As Science Daily points out, secondhand smoke is linked not just to asthma and bronchitis, but also to behavioral problems, blood pressure issues, and ear infections — all in kids who never picked up a cigarette, but just had the unfortunate experience of being constantly exposed to smoke. There’s no excuse for forcing your kids to live in that sort of environment.
Smoking is an addiction and the habit can be hard to break, but that doesn’t excuse you from making every effort to keep your children healthy. My mother smoked when I was a kid. She did it outside, washed her hands when she was finished, and wore a designated smoking jacket over her normal clothes. My mother-in-law also smokes and she takes precautions to protect my kids. Even if quitting feels impossible, there are ways to protect your kids from harm.
Willfully exposing your children to secondhand smoke all the time in their own home, sending them to school in smoke-laden clothing, and driving them around in a smoke-filled vehicle every day is abusive. We should acknowledge how hard it is to quit and make resources available that give people every opportunity to overcome their addiction, but we should also not excuse negligent behavior that puts kids in harm’s way when a parent refuses to take the necessary steps to limit their exposure.