Saturday, January 20, 2007


Smo-king of the road

The city of Bangor, Maine, previously known only to fans of Roger Miller, has just made news by banning smoking in cars if children are present. Some consider it a case of the government going too far, but it turns out — and I hadn't known this before — that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico recently did something similar, and California, Connecticut, and the state of Maine (as opposed to just the city of Bangor) are considering it.

And I have to say, as someone who spent his youth feeling nauseated in smoke-filled cars (well, I did other things too, once in a while), that I approve of this and wish they'd had such a thing fifty years ago.

The measure in Connecticut was proposed by a nine-year-old boy, the first time I've heard of someone that young taking it on himself to petition his legislators — and succeed. The boy, Justin Kvadas, has this to say:

It's bad if a baby gets dropped off at a day care and smells like cigarettes. It's also bad for their lungs because their lungs are so small.

Bangor city councilwoman Patricia Blanchette has similar thoughts:

I am tired as a taxpayer of paying for people to take their children to the emergency room because they've had an asthma attack. [...] Why are we taking these very, very fragile little bodies, putting them in a confined area and allowing people to blow smoke into their lungs?

One resident who doesn't like it is “Denise Savoy, a nonsmoker whose father smoked five packs a day and died of emphysema”. Ms Savoy is “unconvinced of the health risks”:

Doctors are trying to say all these kids have asthma, ear infections. You know what — I had one ear infection in my life. My kidsspent a lot of time around my dad, and my oldest two children had lots of ear infections and tubes in their ears, but my youngest two had none of it. My father was fine until about the last year and half of his life.
OK, I hear this silliness so often, and I still can't believe that people are that dense. “Uncle Joe smoked all his life and lived to be 90,” and variations thereof (like this one), are not counterexamples to the deleterious effects of smoke. Let's put this right out there, clearly: Smoking and being around smoke increases your chances of being ill. It doesn't make it certain. But it increases your chances. What part of that do some people have so much trouble understanding? Just 'cause Uncle Joe didn't die from it don't make it safe. The fact that Ms Savoy's father was “fine” until he developed emphysema and died isn't a reason to deny the effects of smoke. For one thing, her dad might have lived to be 88, instead of 78, had he not smoked — that “last year and a half” might have extended for a decade or more. For another, Ms Savoy points out that two of her four children had “lots of ear infections”, and then uses the fact that the other two didn't to say, “So what's the problem?”

To the contrary, Ms Savoy has good reason to accept the health effects of smoke. But even if everyone in her family had been healthy and had no evidence of smoking-related maladies, that still doesn't refute the sentence in boldface above. If, to pick a number out of the air, half the people who smoked for 30 years died early of a smoking-related illness, that would still mean that half didn't. You could find lots of people who were “fine”. That said, would you want to take those odds?

I just find it unbelievable that people can deceive themselves like that.


Louie said...

How about this: Ban people having kids in the first place and then they can't f*ck them up.

But since that's never going to happen are tax payers really happy at never ending legislation and restriction over their behaviour?

In a godless pointless universe WE are the causes of most of our own problems.

rinmaitlan said...

I love that this measure was proposed by a child in one state. What a great kid!

There's a book you might enjoy, if you haven't already read it: _The Universe and the Teacup_, by K.C. Cole. I'm also going to plug _The GOD Delusion_, by Richard Dawkins (in fact people can't shut me up about Dawkins, I'm a new fan).

We just aren't built to understand statistics. I think it's really important to teach people (starting as children would be a good idea) to understand statistics, the scientific method, and exponential growth. People don't understand how it works or what it's all about, and so they are numb to staggering facts, such as an increased percentage of illness associated with cigarettes, or the sickening size/growth of the national debt.

I've started with my girls by asking them how they decide what to believe, and how they evaluate evidence. I think most people don't understand what the scientific method is all about, and they're suspicious. That needs to be dispelled!

Terry said...

Justin's basic idea is a very good one, but his approach is far from ideal. Imposing second hand smoke on another is a form of assault, to which adults may consent, but minors cannot. The medical harm is peripheral to those assaults. It would make far more sense to specify assault by smoke as a crime against all ages, with a presumption that minors can never consent, nor can parents consent on their behalf any more than other parental child abuse is legal. That would avoid micromanaging select behaviors, while more broadly protecting all people in a range of places, including kids at home which this new law fails to address.

The more complex side of this issue is how to structure penalties or possible mitigations when addiction and other mental illness issues are involved. Should any diversions be offered for addiction treatment on 1st or 2nd offenses (maybe 2 day outpatient and 30 day inpatient programs)? How should police treat it as to what they might witness in cars, homes, or other places, to be consistent with existing complaint driven assault arrests? What is reasonable self defense against assaultive smokers, such as a spray of OC self defense chemicals, or an Ammonium Phosphate fire extinguisher in the face, directed at the smoldering fire and not the criminal human perpetrator, of course?

The U.S. Surgeon General issued a June report concluding there is no risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke, which just confirms what was already widely known that there is no such thing as subjecting others to such smoke without doing them bodily harm. That doesn't end at the age child safety seats are outgrown, nor with adulthood. Any new law which pretends otherwise is deficient, when the only thing which changes at age 18 is the right to subject oneself to the idiotic abuse of nicotine addiction. Even dumb rabbits are smart enough to sense nicotine as a nasty poison.

As to driving safety issues, cel phone restrictions are silly, unless we also consider driving while tired, driving while hyper and stressed from family or work conflicts, and driving with distracting passengers, children, adults, or other species (the least problematic, but the target of a new law in one state). Even some low level substance abusers drive less impaired than the best case for some elderly drivers, whose licenses Connecticut and many other states routinely revoke for medical cause, but who often drive for years less safely than some DUI/DWI's slightly over the limit. Driving while smoking is common, but has resulted in some serious accidents. One of the more notable of those about a year ago resulted in the complete shutdown of I-95 in Richmond, VA after a trucker dropped a burning butt on himself and jackknifed a big rig. That leaves smokers a double risk on the road, to passengers and other drivers.

Since some people learn to manage driving risks or use technology to deal with hot coffee through phones while driving, but paper notes with directions or mapping software needed for driving overlap other technologies, it's difficult to develop rational regulation of such variables other than with financial liability to those who harm others, and criminal liability only for extreme recklessness if provable. Smoking with others who do not or cannot consent is different, as that is inherently criminal in and of itself, before considering other risk to other drivers issues.