Minnesota’s DFL legislators will introduce a bill banning smoking in private cars while children ride as passengers. The bill’s advocates point to the risk from second-hand smoke and increased health costs for support, and claim a precedent with prior seat-belt and child-restraint regulations. However, that mixes apples and oranges in an attempt to obscure the impulse to penalize adults for politically incorrect choices:
Minnesota has banned smoking in workplaces, bars and restaurants. Some suburban communities have banned smoking in parks, and university campuses are taking up the fight, too.
Now, under a bill expected to be introduced today at the state Capitol, lawmakers will consider extending that prohibition to your ride.
Backed by the same groups that helped enact the statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, the new bill would prohibit smoking in cars when children are present.
The analogies to seat belts and child retraints are irrelevant. Since the state “owns” the roads and highways, it has the right to set safety standards that relate directly to driving safety, not general health concerns. Seat belts and child restraints prevent injuries in accidents, not arguable risks of cancer decades down the road, so to speak. Restrictions on cell-phone usage also fall under the same immediate safety issue; states didn’t start banning the use of cell phones while driving because of rumors about brain cancer.
Nor do they pretend any different:
“I’m a mom. I’m a grandma. There’s no safe level of secondhand smoke for kids, especially in the closed environment of a car,” Pappas said.
Studies have shown that even with a window rolled down, it takes mere seconds of a lit cigarette for the air quality inside a vehicle to vastly exceed the levels deemed too hazardous to breathe by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pappas may be a mom and a grandma, but she’s not my mom, and neither is the state of Minnesota. I don’t smoke, and even when I did I rarely smoked in my car because I didn’t like the smell buildup cars get from smoking. Even so, I grew up with plenty of second-hand smoke from family members — and so did generations of Americans. Child mortality rates remained very low, and longevity increased significantly during this period. Before the state imposes its choices over those of free citizens, it had better show a substantial state interest other than an overgrown nosebone.
Oh, wait … Pappas and her allies already have one:
The U.S. Surgeon General has determined there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. In children, it has been linked to everything from ear infections to sudden infant death syndrome. …
“Ear infections and asthma — we see far too many cases of those,” Sloan said.
It’s the health-cost rationale. Since the state pays medical bills, it has the right to dictate your choices, which is the danger than universal health care systems present to individual liberty. And Pappas and the legislature won’t stop at the cars, either. They’re also drafting legislation to bar foster parents from smoking around their wards regardless of where it occurs. That would effectively bounce all of the smokers out of the program, even though Minnesota doesn’t have enough qualified foster homes for the demand we already have. Now the legislature wants to create an artificial shortage on top of that, all because they don’t like smoking.
I don’t like smoking, either. I think it’s a stupid habit, and I thought it was stupid enough to finally quit when I got married. If no one can prove that second-hand smoke stunted the longevity of American life over the last several decades — and they can’t — I’m not about to argue that it’s good for anyone, children included. But government doesn’t exist to determine our personal choices or protect us from our own stupidity, especially by making those choices criminal.
Update: I completely forgot to link back to my radio partner Mitch Berg on this post; be sure to read his take. As for the hysteric in the comments who called smoking around children “child abuse”, a hell of a lot of us must be past victims of abuse, then. What else is abuse? Forcing children to grow up in Los Angeles? R-rated movies? Time outs? Puh-leeeze.