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Secondhand Smoke is Child Abuse, Says Medical Expert

A prominent medical professional is calling for the law to further protect children's health from the risks of secondhand smoke, including appealing to Social Services.

Secondhand Smoke is Child Abuse, Says Medical Expert

The states of Texas, Vermont, and Washington already prohibit foster parents from smoking around their children at home and in cars. A prominent medical professional is now calling for the law to further protect children's health from the risks of secondhand smoke, including appealing to Social Services if parents are unresponsive to anti-smoking overtures. 


Dr. Adam Goldstein, director of the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine's Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program, has observed firsthand that children have no voice when it comes to protecting themselves from the dangers of secondhand smoke, which contains dozens of harmful carcinogens and is documented to decrease lung function. 

At the Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Goldstein explains how repeatedly treating a child of heavy smokers for symptoms of asthma, and finally pneumonia, led him to the conclusion that medical professionals should appeal to the state in cases where parents willfully ignore professional medical advice intended to help their children.

"At least 10 times over three years, we counseled the family to quit smoking around the 5-year-old patient and her 7-year-old sister, as the kids repeatedly came to the clinic for ear infections, coughing, bronchitis, and asthma. Two months after a recent visit, the younger child developed pneumonia..."

Smoking tobacco in the presence of children is analogous to cases involving drunk driving, domestic abuse, and giving drugs to minors, says Goldstein. Just as these behaviors underwent a paradigm shift in our understanding of the harm they cause, so too must our view of secondhand smoke. Goldstein offers up the federal definition of child abuse to make his case:

"Federal law defines child abuse as 'any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.'"

Surely our general outlook on smoking has radically changed in the last 60 years, moving from a symbol of freedom and glamour to one of ill health, poverty, and willful ignorance. How far our protections go will depend on legislatures' willingness to restrict what was once a widely recognized freedom.

Read more at Science Daily.

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