Smokers Will Not Be Able to Adopt - Scotland

The Aberdeen City Council - concerned about legal liability for health problems - is reportedly about to join the majority of agencies and counsel in Scotland that will no longer allow smokers to adopt children, notes Action on Smoking and Health.
By: Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
Nov. 9, 2010 - PRLog -- Smokers Will Not Be Able to Adopt - Scotland
There Are Many Reasons to Ban Smokers From Adopting

The Aberdeen City Council is reportedly about to join the majority of agencies and counsel in Scotland that will no longer allow smokers to adopt children.  Although part of the purpose is simply to protect these wards of the state from the health risks posed by exposure to tobacco smoke pollution, the Council is also concerned that it could be held legally liable if children in foster care develop health problems linked to the smoke, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Similar steps have also been taken in parts of the U.K. (including the Midlothian Counsel, Manchester, Kent, Hampshire, Portsmount, and Hants), and more than a dozen states in the U.S. have prohibited any smoking in the home or car when foster children are present, says Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), who is leading ASH's project to encourage laws protecting children from unnecessary exposure to tobacco smoke.

The Aberdeen proposal would require ex-smokers to prove that they were smokefree for as least a year.

"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 logical reasons supporting the prohibition on adoption by prospective parents who smoke, even if the smoke only outdoors.

For similar reasons judges in the majority of 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 a divorce proceeding.  However, in virtually all cases, parents simply comply with a court order prohibiting smoking in the home, so losses of custody are exceedingly rate, says Banzhaf.

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, especially tobacco smoke residue, now known as thirdhand tobacco smoke.

"Smoking kills thousands of children every year (including 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. Indeed, ''more young children are killed by parental smoking than by all unintentional injuries combined,'' reported The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"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."

Indeed, the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the U.K. has reminded his members that parents who smoke in cars when their kids are present may be guilty of child abuse, a situation which the Children Act 1989 requires be reported to authorities.  Banzhaf notes that Dr. Steve Field's statement is consistent with the law both in Britain and in the U.S., where such complaints have in fact been filed and acted upon.

Some critics have asked why smokers should not be permitted to adopt children if they agree to smoke only outside the home.  But in a situation where a smoker seeking to adopt claims that he or she does not or will not smoke in the home, there may be no way for adopting authorities to independently confirm that, or to make sure that there are never any exceptions - e.g., when the weather is very cold or rainy, 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 or even smoked recently, and therefore could well be 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 currently a smoker.  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 try to 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 the child's 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 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 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."

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."

Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
America's First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418

# # #

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), America's first anti-smoking and nonsmokers' rights organization, serves as the legal action arm of the anti-smoking community. It is supported by tax-deductible contributions.
Source:Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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