Indianapolis, IN — Smoking cigarettes is one of the deadliest habits a person can have. Contributing to both cancer and heart disease, cigarettes are attributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans annually. But should smokers be treated as criminals? A new bill in Indiana will do just that.
Senate Bill No. 34, authored by State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-District 31) and State Sen. Eddie Melton (D-District 3), would make it a crime to smoke in a car with a child under six years of age. It would be considered a class B infraction and punishable by a $1,000 fine.
If that same parent happens to get caught smoking in their car within the same 12-month period, however, that infraction becomes a class A, which is punishable by a $10,000 fine.
Readers of the Free Thought Project already know what can happen to those folks who cannot or refuse to pay the fine—jail or worse.
The bill's supporters say that young children are defenseless against the second hand smoke because they don't have the ability to roll down the window. Therefore, we need government to step in. If you don't support this bill, they will claim, then you likely don't support children.
Others think the bill should go much further and make smoking around children in any environment a criminal act.
As Brian Gresko writes in a piece for Babble.com, Adam Goldstein, an MD and professor in the Department Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, argues that parents should not be allowed to smoke around children, period. And he’s calling on medical organizations to put pressure on legislators to label smoking a form of child abuse.
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But does a loving parent's addiction to cigarettes really teeter on the verge of child abuse? Many parents who smoke would likely lay down their own lives for their children. Would arresting or fining them, or even removing the kids from the home really solve a problem? Many would argue that it would make the problem that much worse—especially considering the current state of the foster system in the United States.
Levying a $10,000 fine on a struggling family because they smoke in their car would be taking that money from the children as well. How does extorting a family help that family? These types of laws almost always target parents of color and parents living in poverty as well.
What's more, the idea of the state playing the parental role in fining or arresting people for smoking around children is a slippery slope. Sodas and candy increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gout and are far more likely to harm children than second hand smoke. Should the state come into our homes and ban those too, or arrest parents who let their kid have a coke?
The real solution to preventing kids from being exposed to smoke lies not in state extortion or threats of violence. Instead, it lies in a lesser ignorance. Smoking is terrible for you. Second hand smoke is terrible for children. Very few people want to deliberately harm their children by smoking, and if they knew the actual dangers, they would likely not do it or refuse to even start smoking in the first place.
Information is the key, not police action. We need only look at the near 60 percent decline in smoking over the last decade to see how effective information is at creating healthier habits. Smoking is still legal in every state, yet people are quitting en masse.
Are people quitting because cops are banging down their doors and arresting them for it like they do for other far less dangerous drugs like weed? Obviously, the answer to that question is a resounding no. This decline is attributed to information awareness. More people than ever now know that smoking kills you, so they are stopping it.
A peaceful solution is possible without extorting people and turning many caring parents into criminals. Those who cannot think outside of the control of the state are doing a disservice to both children and humanity as a whole.