Smoking In The Car With Children Should Be Illegal Everywhere

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 
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I am a child of the ’90s.

I grew up when D.A.R.E. was a thing in public schools, and I remember everything Detective McGruff taught me. I mean, when a ginormous, not-creepy-at-all bipedal dog tells you that drugs are bad, you better listen. I signed my pledge and got my T-shirt.

Drug free, way to be, y’all!

As an adolescent, I never even considered trying a cigarette. I knew the risks, and also, I thought they were gross. Yet, on multiple occasions throughout my childhood, I was unwittingly exposed to toxic tobacco smoke: in public, in family member’s houses, and in a closed car.

I distinctly remember the few times I was stuck in the car with an adult smoker. As a child, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to voice my discomfort. I remember trying not to choke out loud on that tarry air, for fear that I might come across as rude. Even as it became difficult to breathe, and the smell overwhelmed me, I stayed silent. My consent was never requested, so I understood it wasn’t necessary.

Escaping that car felt like a jailbreak. I wanted to roll around in grass or take a shower or literally anything I could do to get that thick smell out of my hair. And lungs.

Now, let me be clear, I do not think smokers are bad parents. Plenty of parents choose to smoke and take precautions — such as going outside to smoke — to keep their kids and others safe from carcinogens.

But as a parent, I frankly can’t fathom smoking in a car with a child inside. In fact, I’m still pissed that it happened to me as a kid.

So this week, I was thrilled to see that my home state is introducing legislation to outlaw smoking in the car with children. Overdue? Absolutely. But better now, than never. This seems like a no-brainer, in my opinion. A law that should pass with ease. After all, plenty of my friends are smokers, and not one of them would dare light up in a closed vehicle (or home, for that matter) containing children.

But no. Nope. Apparently there are people in this world who think their right to a smoky-smoke is more important than a child’s right to cancer-free lungs. You might call these people jerks. Selfish.

Personally, I consider it a form of child abuse.

Yes, I just freaking went there. I don’t care who it pisses off. Child abuse is literally defined as an act that results in “serious physical or emotional harm,” and there is no way to argue that trapping a kid in a confined space full of toxic gas is anything but.

Of course, there are other kinds of abuse that are more pressing — including physical abuse and neglect — because they present immediate harm, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t also abusive.

There are decades of scientific research that prove the dangerous impact of secondhand smoke on children. It isn’t just gross, people. It’s deadly. There is literally no level of secondhand smoke that is considered safe, and it’s effects on children are devastating: asthma, pneumonia, and for many children, even hospitalization. Secondhand smoke is also a major cause of SIDS. Pretty dang scary, right?

Children. Do. Not. Deserve. This.

I know Americans like to get up in arms when it comes to their eagle-flying, flag-waving rights to certain freedoms. And to be clear, I’m here for all of that. You should have every right to do with your body whatever you choose. Smoke, drink, carb-load, whatever. Your body, your choice. Have at it.

However, our freedom of enjoyment ends exactly where it causes harm to others. Especially innocent children.

This isn’t nuanced. It isn’t complicated. Currently there are a handful of states that make it illegal to smoke in a car with a child, but it should be illegal everywhere. If you do this, hell yes, I am judging you. And I’m not the only one.

Human beings universally accept that children should be protected from abuse in every form. When an adult is driving drunk, we throw their butts in jail. If a child is present, we tack on extra charges. And that’s exactly the way it should be. These tiny humans don’t consent to any of this crap. They can’t. So it’s our job to protect them.

Federal law defines child abuse as “an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

Straight up, purposefully exposing kids to secondhand smoke (a known carcinogen) is abusive. It is society’s responsibility to keep our children safe and healthy in as many ways as we can.

And if parents don’t want to do that, we should hold them legally accountable.

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