The Children and Families Bill in England has been drafted to try to address various concerns surrounding children and their care. It’s a bit of a hotch potch Bill, but in amongst the more focused clauses dealing with children in care, there are some interesting gems. Gems which have got all the so-called Liberals’ panties in a twist.
I am of course referring to the latest suggested amendment, 57BB, by the House of Lords to include a smoking ban in cars where children are present. If the new clause is ratified, the government would have the power to make it a criminal offence to smoke whilst a minor is in the car. The amendment is championed by several peers, including Lord Hunt, Lord Faulkner, Baroness Finlay, Baroness Tyler, Lord McColl, Earl Howe and Baroness Hughes.
I admit it. I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it, the taste of it – the way it makes people’s nails look like they’ve got some kind of poolside fungal infection. I even hate the pseudo pretentious gestures the pass time seems to require each smoker to affect when engaging in a puff. You may think you look like Steve McQueen, or Betty Grable, but they’re dead. They died. Of lung cancer.
At least 69 chemicals passed on through second hand smoke in cigarettes are known to cause cancer. Second hand smoke kills 600,000 people every year, throughout the world. One third of those killed are children, often exposed to smoke at home. The NHS website tells us that passive smoking increases your chances of acquiring not only cancer, but other diseases. And it is particularly harmful to children.
Children who take in cigarette smoke have a heightened risk of dying from cot death, developing serious breathing difficulties, meningitis and hearing loss.
Research from the British Lung Foundation also makes for sobering reading. The Foundation found that just one cigarette smoked in a moving car with a window half open exposed a child in the centre of a backseat to around two-thirds as much second-hand smoke as in an average smoke-filled pub before the public smoking ban came into force. The level increased to 11 times when the car was not moving with the windows closed.
Passive smoking carries with it an unreasonably high level of risk, which will see thousands of girls and boys go on as adults to get some form of cancer, which will end up taking the lives of many of those. And of these, a significant percentage will never have touched a cigarette in their lives.
The cries from the Liberal Corner focus mainly on the apparent restriction a ban like this might impose upon their ‘right to smoke’. It is viewed as part of a gradual narrowing process which many fear will lead to an outright ban on smoking altogether. But there are different standards to apply when we consider second hand smoke and how it affects those who either wish not to inhale it, or who are simply too young to vocalise their feelings on the matter. The fact is, children are impressionable of body and mind, and it is our duty, everyone’s duty, to make sure we protect both.
Children who grow up with a family member or parent who smokes are three times more likely to start smoking themselves.
This sentiment was at the heart of the discussion about the Children and Families Bill in the House of Lords this week. This is where the suggested ban stems from. What the national newspapers haven’t picked up on, is that this is not a standalone clause to make smokers’ lives a misery. This is about a much wider, more concerted effort to show the next generation just how harmful smoking can be.
As far back as July last year, the UK government were faced with plans to make all cigarette packaging plain – a move by anti smoking lobbyists to try to reduce the cache that went with smoking, and make it a less desirable pass time. Needless to say, the anti-smoking lobbyists did not win. But that didn’t deter the House of Lords.
At the same time as news broke that the government would not consider changing the packaging on cigarettes, the Lords came up with another plan. If the government wasn’t going to make packaging less seductive to adults, it was going to force its hand at making the packaging less appealing to children instead.
It is these amendments that are being discussed now, although the focus this time is on the section relating to a smoking ban in cars where children are present.
The latest debate in the House of Lords on this clause is also a stark reminder of just how responsible we are for the decisions our children make later on in life. Earl Howe explains that two thirds of smokers take up smoking regularly before they reach 18. Lord Hunt goes on to discuss the fall in smoking rates in England and attributes this to several factors, including a ban on advertising, an increase in the age of sale and picture warnings on packs. All these things, he suggests, are responsible for the 50% decrease in smoking rates amongst our children.
If I were a smoker, I would certainly be feeling nervous right about now. Because, as our Liberal commentators have noticed, the noose is getting tighter around the cigarette. This latest proposed smoking ban in cars is part of a much larger picture – our Lords want to make smoking less desirable to our children. And by implication, less accessible to our grown ups. The Lords even discussed the possibility of banning smoking in people’s homes, especially where the dwellings are small flats and there are several children living in cramped accommodation. If you’re a smoker, you may well be hyperventilating at this point (it doesn’t take much, does it).
And yet a ban on smoking in cars or homes, doesn’t seem draconian or overly invasive to me. The arguments against the ban have been made: why use legislation to try to change a nation’s habit, when a campaign may be better suited to the occasion? Who does the government think it is, legislating what we can and can’t do with our bodies? And yet it does, sometimes with good cause.
In 2007, we made it illegal for people to smoke in the work place. We did this partly because we know that second hand smoke causes serious illness. Moreover, people who didn’t smoke resented having to put up with the life choices of those who did. Many non smokers actively refrain from the habit precisely because they don’t wish to die a premature and painfully slow death. Or smell like a walking, wafting dustbin.
And that is the central point to all of this: smoking isn’t a personal pass time, confined to the user – it’s a public experience, which affects anyone breathing in the same air as the smoker. When that air is being polluted with carcinogenic material, our government has a duty to contain the damage. Especially when the poisons in the air can linger for hours.
It’s not just second hand smoke that poses health risks, either. The little mentioned third hand smoke is also dangerous. That smoke clinging to your hair, clothes, furniture and carpets. That smoke, is particularly dangerous to children. And it’s sitting in your smoker’s house, right now. For me, at least, this research is good enough reason to ban smoking in homes with children.
In fact, there’s more chance of a person developing cancer and other diseases through smoking tobacco than through marijuana, for example. And yet marijuana is for the most part an illegal substance in the UK.
So why, when smoking causes so much more disease and death, is it still legal? I don’t mean to upset smokers reading this article, but it’s a habit which children don’t choose to partake in whilst young and we have a duty to protect them from the effects of it. Smokers also have a duty to be considerate. I don’t mind if you want to play with cemtex in your garden, just make sure you play away from my front door.
So by all means, puff yourself to death if you wish. I’m a firm believer that people should do what they want to their own bodies. Just don’t puff in our children’s faces.