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Outlaw Parental Smoking

In light of the dangers of third-hand smoke—plus what’s already known about secondhand smoke—governments should make it illegal for people with children to smoke. Pro or con?

Pro: One More Nail in the Coffin

The medical journal Pediatrics rang in 2009 with sobering news about cigarettes: Even those who smoke outside to spare loved ones from secondhand smoke do them another disservice. So-called third-hand smoke, the residue of toxic cigarette ingredients, clings to smokers’ hair and clothing long after they snuff out the cigarette. For parents, that means picking up or hugging their children could contaminate them with the likes of hydrogen cyanide, butane, arsenic, and polonium-210, according to the study, led by Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff. A New York Times story about the study pointed out that polonium-210 is the same substance “used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006.”

“Smokers have a right to breathe in those 4,000 chemicals contained in cigarettes, and nonsmokers have a right not to,” says Danny McGoldrick, vice-president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C.

No one’s rights are more relevant than those of children, who have little means to protect themselves from their parents’ hazardous habits. It should be illegal for parents to smoke, period.

And it’s not as though there isn’t already plenty of evidence about the way secondhand smoke endangers the children of smokers. According to the Surgeon General’s findings, secondhand smoke harms children by, among other things: causing bronchitis and pneumonia, aggravating the effects of asthma, and increasing the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that childhood exposure to tobacco smoke may lead to the development of cancers during adulthood.

Finally, with the recession upon us and apparently here to stay, spending money on a non-necessity is hardly prudent. In New York City, federal, state, and city taxes inflate the cost of cigarettes to $8 a pack. That means two-pack-a-day smokers are sucking $480 a month out of the family exchequer.

Instead, parents should avail themselves of help from any of the numerous free anti-smoking programs or over-the-counter products to help them wean themselves off cigarettes. Have you ever heard of anyone who regretted quitting smoking or setting a good example for a child?

Con: Enough with the Hype and Guilt

Why is everyone so quick to believe this slight evidence about “third-hand smoke,” and what makes smoking any worse than parents’ other bad behavior?

“A lot of smokers are happy about this third-hand smoke report, because it shows what ridiculous lengths antismoking people will go to,” says Dave Hitt, a smoker who created the opinion site the Hittman Chronicle ( “The study was nothing more than a phone survey on what people believe is harmful. The stuff used to kill the Russian spy, the polonium, was a huge dose—you’d have to have a baby licking the floor clean every day for 267 billion years to equal it.”

George Koodray sees the third-hand smoke report as just another excuse for selective finger-pointing. “I find it somewhat hard to believe that your body could discern ‘third-hand smoke’ from all the bad substances you find in carpet and clothing and the air,” says Koodray, who serves as New Jersey state coordinator of the Smokers Club. “Back when secondhand smoke was all the rage, I’d see people jogging for their health right next to eight lanes of highway traffic. I think the effect of secondhand smoke pales in comparison to a lot of the things we’re exposed to.”

Furthermore, smoking in general doesn’t qualify as an immediate fatal threat. It takes years or even an entire lifetime to acquire cancer or emphysema from smoking, while one bad fall on an all-terrain vehicle or motorcycle can mean serious injury or death. Why not make it illegal for parents to introduce these sports to their kids? And how about outlawing parental consumption of alcohol while we’re at it? Unlike alcohol, cigarettes have never been linked to domestic violence.

It’s about time to stop persecuting smokers, period. In October 2008 a state trooper arrested a Long Island woman for the misdemeanor charge of tax evasion after she bought five cartons of cigarettes at the Cayuga Indian Reservation. The cigarettes were for herself; she purchased them at the reservation to save money and bought them in volume to save on gas.

Smokers make an easy target for finger pointing, and parents are always quick to cast stones at other parents, hoping their own foibles will be overlooked amid the rock-throwing.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek,, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Chuck Gaffney

Smoking in front of your kids is not much different from leaving your kids in a car in the summer. Though the issue of the government intervening in personal space comes to mind, parents dumb enough to smoke around their kids should still see punishment for their brainless act.


Should we also make it a felony offense for parents to purchase happy meals because of the relationship between consuming fast foods has to obesity? What about a parent's failure to set a good example by exercising--jail time? Where do we draw the line?


Parents knows best. If they know that their spawns deserve to be choked with carcinogenic smoke, then they should. Who are we to fight natural selection? Just like it is never too late for a parent to abort their mistakes--even if (maybe especially if) their spawns are 50 years old and still living with Mommy.


It is my personal belief not to smoke, not only for me but for the people I love. And besides, I'd rather spend the money on other important stuff.

Paul Gibson

Anyone questioning whether or not smoke affects kids has more problems than smoking in front of their little ones. As a smoker and father of three girls, I would never dare smoke in front of my little ones--then again, don't take that cigarette away from me on the terrace at night.

Andrea Frank

It's an interesting and scary question, really, but something I heard today scared me even more:

National health care for children is paid for already, but is being stalled out in legislation--that's right, is already paid for children throughout our country, by a 61-cent tax on packs of cigarettes.

Now here's a question: If we despise and fear smoking so much, can we morally depend on it to provide funding for social services for children or any citizens?


So when is the report on fourth-hand smoke coming out? Even though I'm loath to agree with a self-proclaimed ace reporter who calls himself the Hittman, this is a ridiculous study. Humans pick up all sorts of fatal or dangerous-sounding contaminants on them including those found in cigarettes just by walking down the street.

If trace amounts of substances that could increase cancer risks over a lifetime of exposure are the legal yardstick by which smoking is or isn't banned for certain people, what about parents who expose their children to UV radiation from the sun? UV rays are mutagenic and can cause melanoma. So parents who have children shouldn't be allowed to take them outside where UV rays could raise their risks for cancer.

If smoking is so bad and so dangerous and so poisonous, why not just go ahead and ban it? Oh right. Prohibitions don't work, and the states like the tax revenues from tobacco sales and the billions being paid out in fines by tobacco companies from the great medical evidence-withholding settlement. So we have to put up with a barrage of alarmist studies about all the terrible things in cigarettes and cigarette smoke. And some of these studies aren't even true. A pulled commercial for an anti-smoking group once claimed that 56,000 people a year die of smoking while the CDC has the number at around 3,000. Exaggerate much? Like by a factor of 18 much?


Illegal for parents to smoke, but we have freedom of choice to abort an accident.

Illegal to smoke but OK to physically or sexually abuse children, because no one can smell that.

Illegal to smoke, but go ahead and have that drink after work because you worked hard and you deserve it. The kids don't need you to be of sound mind to interact with them.

Illegal to smoke, but oops, if our children play with our gun.

Maybe this society should stop trying to control others and look at our own perfect life. To quit smoking is very difficult and more so due to all of these perfect people trying to dictate to the rest of us.


Please correct me if I am wrong--47 million smokers, an exaggerated supposition of 470,000 premature deaths from smoking. Isn't that 1%? I am confused.


I was raised with a father who smoked. I am going on 40 years old and have no health problems. He used to smoke in the car with the windows rolled up, and on long trips he may smoke four or five times before we would arrive. I think it is another way to control, and I am sick of people telling me what I can and can't do. It's my life. God granted me life and no one has authority over what I do with it. Until the government starts paying for the kids' school clothes and the doctor visits and the school lunches and so on, I will raise them how I see fit. If you don't want us to smoke, you should not have invented them. It's time the American people say enough is enough. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion.


Let's first figure out who children belong to, starting at the beginning. A woman has an egg that gets fertilized by a man, after which a pregnancy occurs. The woman gestates for nine months or so, gives birth to a baby, and said child carries the DNA from the parents. Every other person with an opinion as to how to raise the child is just an opinion of unrelated strangers with no ties to the family and as such should have "rights" as to how those parents raise their child.


Why does it seem the U.S. is attempting to pass laws that eliminate all risk?


Okay, so what we are saying here is that in the future America we will need a license to have kids? We have absolutely no control over welfare cases popping out babies for more money, and they want to impose laws like this on hardworking members of our country?

This is an extremely dangerous and slippery slope, and Americans should be absolutely terrified that this war on American citizens is getting out of control.

I'm sorry. Where is the boat out of this communistic society, and where do I purchase my ticket?


Who wrote these pieces? Attribution, please.


The largest study of secondhand smoke exposure (conducted by the World Health Organization) found that adult children of smokers had significantly fewer lung cancers than the adult children of non-smoking parents. Shouldn't we be insisting that all parents smoke around their children? The debate is over. Light up.


I have four siblings, and we were all raised around smoking. We are all in our 50s now, and none of us has cancer or major health problems because of it. Smoking is just like any addiction, not easy to quit. To make it illegal for those with children to smoke would be just as difficult to control as trying to stop drug addicts, drunks, those addicted to porn, and abusive parents from raising children. More children are killed by drunk drivers, neglect from drug-addict parents, or abuse then secondhand smoke. What are they going to do? Take the children away and put them in foster care, where they are unloved, psychologically damaged, abused, and sometimes killed? The government has spent billions on trying to control what goes on behind closed doors and it still isn't able to stop it.


Yes, make it illegal for parents to smoke. In addition, any of you fat parents out there must go on a diet and show that you are losing weight to promote a healthy role model for your children. Also, parents will no longer be allowed to buy alcohol, even though you may not drink in front of the little angels, the effects of alcohol may alter behavior and cause them harm.

Just for good measure we should mark all parents' driver's licenses with a giant red P, and provide a special license plate for their easy identification.

Soon enough you will once again not be able to tell the difference between the U.S. and England, where no one is accountable for their actions and the government is there to solve everyone's problems.

Pro Responsibility

Both my parents smoked and developed heart problems. I used to and stopped so that I don't end up like them. Smoking is bad, but lack of choice is worse.

How about we start being responsible for our own actions instead of Uncle Sam telling us how to live?


Soon the nanny state will be telling me I can't send my kids off to work in the coal mines anymore. This stuff has gotten so out of hand: compulsory education, mandatory vaccinations, car seats, child labor laws, etc. Now you can't even force your own kids to inhale toxins and carcinogens from burning tobacco. Are we living in America anymore? Parents who smoke around children are just preserving their right to treat their children as they see fit. What I do to my kids is nobody else's business, especially the state's (


This is pure fascism.


Make it illegal, along with allowing your child anywhere near car exhaust or plastic, feeding your child non-organic food, wearing synthetic fibers near your child, watching reality TV in the presence of your child, and wearing Crocs.


Many of the chemicals present in "third-hand" smoke are aromatic hydrocarbons. Sounds nasty, doesn't it?

Any odor/aroma/stink contains high levels of aromatic hydrocarbons. These are the compounds that we smell. Without them, there would be almost no scent in nature. Next time you smell a rose, or relish the aroma of baking cookies, or popping popcorn, remember that you are breathing in toxic and dangerous chemicals.

Next time someone yanks your worry-beads with rumor of radioactivity, and horror, remember that we are completely surrounded by radioactivity. The very rocks and atmosphere around us give off natural radioactivity that far surpasses anything found in a human-generated organic product. The sun and stars bathe the Earth in X-rays and neutrons and gamma radiation; they always have. The Earth's magnetic field is not 100% protective.

Stories like this should remind us that we are constantly being manipulated by people with a political agenda that increases their personal power and wealth at our expense.

Long John

Cigarette smoking is indefensible. At least the potheads can say that they are "getting high." The people who smoke cigarettes don't even get that. Seriously though, I've smoked the dried leaves from both plants in the past, and boy do I feel stupid for doing it.


This is so ridiculous. If the government is so worried about this, why don't they make it illegal to smoke all together? The government won't do that because the tobacco companies pay in too much in taxes. Either go all the way, government, or leave us alone.


Can't we just solve this entire problem by giving every American a plastic bubble to live in (at government/taxpayer expense)? That way everyone will be safe from everything. That's what we all want, right? Or is it? Who needed all that weird liberty and responsibility stuff anyway?

Van Theodorou

I made it a personal conviction not to smoke, not only for me but for the people I love. I'd rather spend the money on other important stuff.


People who smoke are generally disgusting. Who wants to intentionally put smoke (that's right, it is smoke) in their body? Not to mention said smoker stinks--constantly. Tar, cancer, death, etc.

However, the government has no right to tell people that they can't smoke if they're parents--that's ludicrous. In this country, you should be able to do whatever you want to do, even if it involves slowly killing yourself. It's your right; you've earned it just by being an American. So light up. Just don't do it around me, because it stinks.

Samuel Strong

Personal freedoms are difficult to earn, even harder to keep, and once given up, harder still to get back. In my state, the state government has banned smoking in all public places, and has encroached on many people's rights. In the end, it should be left to the moral choice. I'm not a smoker, but I don't care for the federal government taking personal freedoms from us.


Consider this:

If your small child sits very close to me for 10 minutes while I smoke a cigarette, nothing will happen to him. But if your child sits very close to the tail pipe on your car for 10 minutes, your child will be dead.

I think the country should prohibit parents' driving cars, because the exhaust fumes are far more poisonous than cigarette smoke.

Except all you righteous people drive, but you don't smoke. So, no chance.


The anti-smokers are guilty of flagrant scientific fraud for ignoring more than 50 studies, which show that human papillomaviruses cause more than 10 times more lung cancers than they pretend are caused by secondhand smoke. Passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus, so the anti-smokers' studies, because they are all based on nothing but lifestyle questionnaires, have been cynically designed to falsely blame passive smoking for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV.

The anti-smokers have committed the same type of fraud with every disease they blame on smoking and passive smoking, as well as ignoring other types of evidence that proves they are lying, such as the fact that the death rates from asthma have more than doubled since their movement began.

And it's a lie that passive smoking causes heart disease. The death rates from AMI in Pueblo actually rose the year after the smoking ban. Those anti-smoker frauds only claimed that the rates of hospitalization for AMI declined, not deaths. And they could create a false impression of a decline merely by being too free with admissions (and raking in extra money for it) beforehand, and then magically reduce the admission rate by tightening up the policy.


If the bureaucrats were totally sincere in their concern about smoking and its related hazards, they would ban the product from shelves and make it unavailable to sell to the public. Their fight is about control of personal freedoms, not about health.


So, Businessweek is dumbed down to this?


What next? A car should be designed to have a maximum speed of 120 kilometers an hour since no law on earth allows drivers to exceed this limit.

william riddle

Why don't we just throw out the Constitution? I understand the secondhand smoke killing people. It will not be long before they tell us we cannot put our kids in timeout. The government is getting way too outrageous with its muscle. What happened to the old days of parents taking care of their children in their own way? I grew up to be an outstanding middle-aged man with a great career and life.


This is patently absurd. Next we'll find that fourth-hand smoke causes brain cancer in those who study it.

Terry Lin

This is first time I've heard third-hand smoke. It is unfair to the non-smokers. But this is a real world, and what is totally fair in our earth?


This is absolutely ridiculous. What's next? It's illegal to watch violent movies with your kids because they can become violent? Can't drink in front of them because if they see you they will be more likely to start drinking? Come on, people, obesity kills more people than smoking--let the government solve that problem.

jack willits

The entire question of the legality of smoking is more important than debating parental responsibility for third-hand smoke.
Make it illegal to ensure the health of smokers and you'll see smoking diminish until it disappears.


The government should stick to good governance and not spend their time trying to regulate people's behavior or habits. Tobacco should be banned from the entire country and Indian reservations.


Make it illegal? Ever heard of Prohibition? Remember what happened in the 1920s and 1930s when alcohol was illegal? Make tobacco illegal or anything related to it illegal, and the country would have some serious problems.

Tobacco companies might be losing a couple of million customers in the U.S., but they're gaining hundreds in Asia and Latin America.


Maybe the U.S. government can do what the Chinese government did and prevent certain web sites to be accessed on the Web, huh? Maybe the U.S. government can start taxing each of us for posting a comment here, right? Maybe the U.S. government can place those same chips that were put on the cartons of Philadelphia brand cream cheese onto packages of cigarettes, huh? You can watch the documentary that exposed this by simply Googling "America: Freedom to Fascism," and watching it on the web for free. Katherine Albrecht, a Harvard graduate, exposed how the government is bugging us in ways that you might find interesting. I recently switched to the Lucerne brand of cream cheese. I don't like "bugs" in my cream cheese or on the boxes of cream cheese that I buy. How about you?

Ron Cline

When did cigarette smoking become a right? Your argument is flawed. Outlawing smokes has two huge downsides. 1) Outlawing smoking will create a black market environment costing government more to chase the traffickers. 2) How would you enforce a ban on smoking? Make doctors turn in outlaw parents?

I think smoking is one of the dumbest things an adult can do in this enlightened information age. If the feds want people to stop smoking, they are going to have to bend the rules to help us out. Allow employers to exclude employees from their health plans while they smoke. Keep their families out, too, as leverage. That is radical, but it will put the pressure on. Change Medicare/Medicaid rules to exclude smokers for smoking-related diseases. As a taxpayer and employer, I want harsh consequences for those that disregard their health at my expense. Put a mandate in place that after a grace period, you'll be held financially responsible for smoking-related illnesses. Why aren't the feds putting more pressure on states to outlaw smoking in public places? How addicted are people that can't go without a smoke for an hour in a restaurant? Think about it, people. Smoking is voluntary slavery to a company. It's condemning children to generations of poor health and flawed thinking. It isolates people from mainstream society. Oh yeah, did I mention that everyone that has a health plan pays an increased premium for every smoker at their place of work? How unfair is that?


I think it's absurd for government to try to outlaw smoking when they cannot enforce all of the other laws on the books. On the other hand, since it's my right not to smoke, being held hostage by a smoker's cancer stick isn't my idea of a good time. And equating cigarette smoke with exhaust fumes, carcinogens, and other toxins or stating that studies don't show a link between smoking and domestic violence doesn't make cigarettes any better for my or anyone's health. Also, let's not forget, at least I can choose to buy that carpet or jog behing a Greyhound Bus. I don't have a choice in who walks next to, in front of, or behind me on the street leaving a trail of poison changing direction with the wind.

It's sad how smokers try to justify their habit by saying it's their right to smoke. If it's the tobacco you want, chew it. That way, the only person you truly harm is yourself.


Well, I think smoking is bad for people because they have to breathe in that secondhand smoke, and cigarettes have 4,000 chemicals.


There's no doubt that smoking can cause serious health problems and even death. Second hand smoking is even worse. If everyone has rights, why don't smokers respect the rights of innocent children and nonsmokers by not invading their space and infringing upon there rights? You want to smoke? Lock yourself away in a cell or something, but don't smoke in my face and tell me "Take that."


Smoking is the smokers' choice and if they die, they die. It's not your fault. And if you're by somone who is smoking and you don't want to be, just walk away.


Sometimes you can't walk away. I'm 44 years old and I have never smoked a day in my life, but both my parents did. I smelled that nasty smoke from the day I was born till I moved out at age 18. I remember that I would hide with my head under the covers at night to get away from the smell, and as a teenager I remember putting my clothes in the dryer every morning so that I could get the smell out of my clothes. It never worked and hiding my head didn't work either. About 2 weeks ago I got the results of my CT scan back, and I Have lung cancer. It's not fair. I didn't get a choice. I didn’t get the right to say, and when I complained I got smoke blown in my face. And now I got cancer. When you smoke around your kids, keep in mind that you’re not just killing yourself, you’re killing your children too.


Smokers are some of the most selfish people on the planet. They have this disgusting habit that they could have avoided, but they generally don't care enough about other people to go elsewhere to smoke.
My mom smoked like a freight train. She would not go outside. I didn't come out of my room very often because I didn't want my hair to smell like smoke (and it did, even if I was two rooms away while she was smoking). We were very poor. She made $9/hr, and that was the only income, but it didn't stop her from spending $6 on a pack of cigarettes every day. She'd spend her last $6 on cigarettes before she'd spend it on food, no matter how empty the cabinets were.


I grew up with parents and grandparents who smoked, and I picked up my first cigarette at 14. I quit last year because physical activity was becoming harder and harder. Chasing a bus or walking up a flight of stairs completely knocked me out...I was 26.

A year later, I'm still suffering the consequences of the damage I have done to my lungs--it may take a lifetime to get back to good health. I feel very stupid to have done this to myself, but for 12 years I justified smoking the same way people are justifying it here.

Your kids need you. Why raise your chances of dying young or of living through a miserable disease like lung cancer?

Parental smoking is indefensible--sorry.


I think the campaign against 'passive smoking' has some strong similarities to the 'global warming/climate change' craze. (You only get research funding to prove 'it's a fact' not to prove it's bull).
The climate change gurus are stooping to the same lies and fiddles that the anti-smokers did.


First off, let me state that I'm a casual smoker. Smoking is an individual's choice. I'm old enough to die for my country, so I should not be frowned upon for smoking in society. I run 2-3 miles about 3-4 days a week. I work out every day. Plus I drink no soda and eat only vegetables and fruit. I'll have steak twice a week. I'm 10 times healthier then any nonsmoker. What im trying to say is that smoking is not good for you but there's more to people getting sick then just smoking. By the way, I only smoke 2-3 cigs a day. I've stayed that way for 3 years now. But for someone that gets to 1-2 packs a day. That might not be great. Oh and my grandfather was a boxer. When training he only drank black coffee with Lucky Strikes.

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