Thursday, December 23, 2010
Smokers Banned From Adopting Children
There Are Many Reasons to Ban Smokers From Adopting - Midlothian Council in the U.K. is just the latest entity to prohibit smokers from adopting or providing foster care for children, a step Portsmouth, Hants, in England and other jurisdictions took several years ago, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Anyone wanting to care for a child under the age of five will be required not to have smoked for at least six months, even if they only smoke outdoors.
"This is just the latest step in a growing movement to protect the most vulnerable and most defenseless victims of tobacco smoke pollution," says Banzhaf, noting that there are many reasons supporting the prohibition on adoption by prospective parents who smoke, even if only outdoors.
For similar reasons judges in more than half our states in the USA, and a few in foreign countries, have recognized that smoking around children can be not only dangerous but deadly, and have ruled that smoking around a child can be grounds for losing custody. In some situations, parents have been prohibited from smoking 24 or even 48 hours before a child is due to arrive in the home because of the lingering effects of tobacco smoke.
Similarly, more than a dozen states have ruled -- or are in the process of issuing rules -- prohibiting smoking in the presence of foster children, and several states and cities have banned smoking in cars when any children are present.
"Smoking kills thousands of children every year (largely from respiratory infections), is also a major factor in SIDS, and causes millions of medical problems in kids each year ranging from asthmatic attacks (and new cases of asthma) to ear aches, so protecting young children from tobacco smoke is long overdue," says Banzhaf.
"A growing number of people consider smoking around children to be the most prevalent and dangerous form of child abuse, so it is not surprising that an adoption agency would want to protect their wards to whom they owe both a legal (fiduciary) duty and a moral obligation."
In a situation where a smoker seeking to adopt claims that he or she does not smoke in the home, there may be no way to independently confirm that, or to make sure that there are never any exceptions -- e.g., when the weather is very cold, when the smoker is too ill to go outdoors, etc.
So it may not be unreasonable for the government or a social welfare agency to have a rule against permitting adoptions where a prospective parent smokes, and therefore is more likely than not addicted to nicotine. For similar reasons, a welfare agency might not wish to place a child with someone with a history of addiction to alcohol or illegal drugs, even if he promises to change his behavior as a condition of becoming an adoptive parent, suggests Prof. Banzhaf.
Otherwise the health and perhaps the life of a child could be put at risk, especially since there is no way an agency could possibly monitor for -- much less prevent -- any smoking around a child by a new parent who is already a smoker. The same problem might also apply to anyone with a history of alcohol or drug addiction.
Moreover, if a violation occurred once the child had been placed for adoption, or if the smoker simply decided to change his practice and begin smoking within the family home once the adoption became final, it might be very difficult as well as expensive for the social welfare agency to then remove the child from the home.
"If a natural father or mother of a child can lose custody by endangering its welfare by smoking in his presence, as several courts have ruled, it should not be surprising that smoking can be a barrier to an adoption; i.e., where -- unlike the situation with a natural child -- there is no biological connection between the adults and the child up for adoption, and no bond has yet been created," says Banzhaf.
There are several other logical reason for preventing smokers from adopting young children, suggests ASH. The first is that a child is much more likely to grow up to be a smoker, and to face the enormous health hazards this imposes, if one or both parents are also smokers, regardless of where they do their smoking.
Second. thirdhand tobacco smoke, what the New York Times called "the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing," has just been reported by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to combine with a common indoor air pollutant to form very potent cancer causing substances. This, the researchers say, places children at serious risk, even if parents smoke only outside the home, because they carry the residues inside with them.
Dr. Lara Gundel, a co-author of this study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned: "Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker's skin and clothing. Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. The biggest risk is to young children. Dermal uptake of the nicotine through a child's skin is likely to occur when the smoker returns and if nitrous acid is in the air, which it usually is, then TSNAs [tobacco-specific nitrosamines] will be formed."
Indeed, as another researcher has reported, thirdhand tobacco smoke is "much more toxic" than secondhand tobacco smoke because the aging of secondhand smoke absorbed on surfaces gives risk to new toxicants not present in fresh secondhand smoke.
Third, a related study shows that the tobacco-residue chemicals in smokers' breath were by themselves sufficient to cause or aggravate respiratory illnesses -- including asthma, coughs, and colds -- among children in smokers' homes as compared with kids in homes with nonsmokers, even if the parents only smoked outside the home.
There is just no justification for unnecessarily exposing children to any level of toxic or cancer-causing chemicals, since there is no safe level of exposure to any human carcinogen like asbestos or secondhand smoke, argues ASH, echoing the U.S. Surgeon General's warnings that: "It hurts you, It doesn't take much. It doesn't take long. . . .There is no safe amount of secondhand tobacco smoke. Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be dangerous."
The law protects us all against exposure to even minute amounts of substances known to cause cancer in humans like asbestos; shouldn't the same protections apply to carcinogens in both secondhand and thirdhand tobacco smoke, which kill many more people each year, suggests Banzhaf.
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