By tradition, coffee houses are havens for the opinionated. Erbie's is no exception! The Smoking Lounge is a place for controversial, and sometimes heated, editorial.
Would you like to comment on an editorial? Write a counter argument? DROP ME A LINE! I'll post a "comments on last week's editorial" section before each week's offering.
"I'd never do THAT to my body!" (this often from a person who lives at McDonald's)
"None of MY friends smoke!"
"Smokers are disgusting!"
"Kissing a smoker
is like licking an ashtray!" (one wonders how many ashtrays this individual
licked -- seems like an odd pastime, but to each his own!)
"If you cared
about [your body, the environment, the world, the fate of starving childrenin
you'd kick that disgusting habit!"
Smokers (even the considerate ones -- such as yours truly -- who would never dream of smoking in a confined space, lighting up in someone else's home or a designated non-smoking area, or tossing their butts on the ground) get used to disparaging remarks, feigned coughs, sneers...even occasional physical abuse (you haven't lived until you've had a total stranger walk up to you, knock your cigarette out of your hand, and give you a lecture on what a low-life scum you are!). But now the debate has taken on truly chilling overtones: They are talking about taking away our children.
Several states are considering legislation that would classify cigarette smoking as child abuse, justifying the removal of a child from the home of a parent who smokes. They cite health reasons, and some of these are, indeed, valid. But the proposals themselves are too broad in scope. They fail to take into consideration such factors as the overall health of the child, the total home environment, or the psychological damage to the child from being taken from his/her parents and familiar environment by a total stranger. Worse, in some cases, all that will be required is a complaint from a neighbor, a "friend" or a relative! Think about this for a moment: I step outside on my back porch for a cigarette (thinking I'm doing the right thing, as I know it's not good for my child if I smoke indoors). My nosy neighbor, ticked off because my dog got into her garden, decides to call Child Protective Services. Bingo! My child is in a foster home and I'm up on charges...all because I chose to indulge in a LEGAL activity, in my own back yard, safely away from my (very healthy) child!
Some people will argue that this will create a strong incentive for smokers to kick the habit. No doubt!
The incentive is there, but the ability? That's another issue altogether.
I'm not arguing
that smoking isn't bad for people. Nor do I dispute that constant,
close-range exposure to sidestream smoke can be harmful to a child.
But, if such laws are to be considered, other factors must come into play:
1. Society, and especially the medical profession, is amazing unsupportive of smokers trying to kick the addiction to nicotine (a drug that is as addictive as heroin). Go to a doctor and tell him you are trying to quit smoking...nine times out of 10, he will suggest Nicorette or SmokeEnders, and that's the end of the story. Ask about residential treatment, and he laughs. Tell him about the last time you tried to quit...when the withdrawal depression brought you to the brink of suicide, and he sneers. Tell your friends that you are trying to quit and they may laud your efforts (if they don't just roll their eyes and say "finally!")...but will they hold your hand late at night when the shakes are bad and your strongest impulse is to throw yourself off the nearest bridge? Will they offer love, or lectures? A strong arm, or a scolding?
The thing is, despite what we tell our children, we still think stopping smoking is simply a matter of will power rather than what it is...a struggle with a very powerful addiction.
2. These proposals are appallingly lacking in consideration for the child's overall well-being. A child should NEVER be removed from his/her home except in cases of CLEAR AND IMMEDIATE DANGER, and never without a complete investigation into the situation.
3. If such laws are passed, they must also take into consideration other lifestyle choices that can affect a child's health. Does the parent offer a healthy diet, or does the child live on McDonald's hamburgers and bologna sandwiches? Are the child's innoculations up to date? Is the child allowed to play only with age-appropriate toys? Are guns kept in the home? Is the house situated under power lines? If these comparisons seem absurd, consider that more children died of pertussis (whooping cough) in pre-vaccination days than are considered seriously health-compromised by smoking parents today...and yet many parents still refuse to have their children vaccinated! Shall we remove their kids from their homes?
As I said, I know that there are compelling reasons not to expose children to cigarette smoke. But if such legislation is to be truly in the interests of the child, and not simply another coup for the anti-smoking front, the guidelines need to be more closely cut. I propose the following:
Social services may not get involved unless:
A) Specific concerns about a child's heath are raised by an individual close enough to the child to make a valid connection (i.e., a doctor, or a close family member -- no disgruntled neighbors!).
B) These concerns are verified by a pediatrician, and linked VERIFIABLY and SPECIFICALLY to the parent's smoking in too close a proximity to the child.
Removal from the home may not be considered unless:
A) The parent has been advised by the pediatrician of the SPECIFIC danger to the child's health,
B) The parent has been offered SPECIFIC guidelines for minimizing or eliminating the health risk to the child (such as being advised to smoke only outside the home or car), and refuses to comply.
C) The parent has been given the opportunity to verify the first pediatrician's findings via second opinion from a doctor of his or her choosing.
A) Any parent who, on the basis of such accusations, wishes to give up smoking, must be offered a comprehensive smoking-cessation program, including (as necessary) nicotine replacement therapy, anti-depressants, psychological counseling, referral to a support group and, where necessary, residential treatment. We offer all kinds of options to people who are struggling with heroin addiction...why should the same options not be available to people who are addicted to nicotine?
Under these guidelines, a child MAY NOT be removed from the home if:
A) A specific link between the parent's smoking and immediately life-threatening health problems cannot be proved;
B) The parent complies with suggested precautionary guidelines, or;
C) The parent is participating in a comprehensive smoking-cessation program.
Without such clear-cut guidelines, legislation of this nature is little more than the morals of one segment of society imposed on a legal minority. It is a means to acheiving a goal that has little to do with children's health and a lot to do with political agendas. It is, in words of one syllable, a witch hunt.
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