Smokers Increasingly Losing Custody and Being Denied Adoption

According to a new report, there's a growing trend to deny custody and adoption rights to smokers, and to ban smoking in homes and cars, and the law professor behind this trend strongly supports it
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Washington - District of Columbia - US

Feb. 23, 2012 - PRLog -- In a "growing trend," "if you are involved in a child custody dispute and you are a cigarette smoker, your chance of getting full or even joint custody might go up in smoke. . . .  Maybe losing custody of your children should be added to the warnings on packs of cigarettes."  Even if a smoker obtains joint custody, smoking is often prohibited 24 or even 48 hours before a child is due to arrive, says the man behind the movement.

Even where a smoker gets joint custody, judges in the great majority of states have issued orders prohibiting any smoking in the home, more than a dozen states have banned smoking in homes with foster children, many prospective parents have been unable to adopt if they are (or even have) been smokers, and a growing number of jurisdictions are banning smoking in cars with children, says the public interest law professor who first developed the legal tactic of raising smoking as an issue in custody cases, and of arguing that smoking around a child can constitute "child abuse."

As the Washington Times has just noted:
* In at least 18 states, courts have ruled that subjecting a child to tobacco smoke is a factor which should be considered in deciding custody.
* No judge and no court has ever ruled that subjecting a child to tobacco smoke should be ignored in deciding custody.
* In thousands of cases, courts have issued orders prohibiting smoking in the presence of a child, especially in vehicles.
* In some cases the orders prohibit smoking in a home 24 (or even 48) hours before the child arrives.
* In some cases, parents have lost custody or had visitation reduced because they subjected a child to tobacco smoke.
* Existing court orders regarding custody, visitation, etc. can often be modified if a child is being subjected to tobacco smoke.
* Courts sometimes consider the smoking habits of others who may have contact with the child, such as grandparents, friends, and “significant others” when making custody decisions.

Public interest law professor John Banzhaf first began assisting nonsmoking parents to deny custody to spouses who smoke. Then, with a series of legal petitions, he began persuading states to prohibit smoking in homes where foster children were present; a movement which also led many states to begin prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present.  He has also supported policies of rejecting smokers as prospective adoptive parents.

"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, making it one of the most lethal forms of child abuse.

There are several other logical reason for preventing smokers from being granted custody or adopting young children, even if they claim to smoke only outside away from the children. The first is that the 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.

Also, thirdhand tobacco smoke - what the New York Times called "the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing," and Scientific American condemned as "the cocktail of toxins that linger in carpets, sofas, clothes and other materials hours or even days after a cigarette is put out" -  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, benzene, or secondhand smoke, argues Banzhaf, 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
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418

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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking, obesity, discrimination, food and auto safety, political corruption, etc.
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Tags:Smoker, Lose Custody, Denied Adoption, Banzhaf, Child Abuse, Secondhand Tobacco Smoke, Smoking Bans
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