Failing to Want to Quit


Michael Siegel notes that Arkansas recently banned smoking in cars when any passengers are younger than 7 or weigh less than 60 pounds. The law, apparently the first of its kind in the country, prescribes a $25 fine for the offense and allows primary enforcement, which means smoking in the car while taking the kids to school is enough to get a driver pulled over.

Siegel, who supports government-imposed smoking bans in workplaces, notes that Arkansas still permits smoking in bars (but not in restaurants, unless they keep minors out), which he sees as inconsistent with the car rule. The two policies are arguably consistent, however, in that both ostensibly hinge on the presence of children.

Siegel is on firmer ground when he notes that the same child protection rationale that supports the car ban also would support a ban on smoking at home in the presence of children. Although Siegel believes secondhand smoke does pose a measurable risk to children, he does not think the danger is big enough to justify overriding the privacy and parental autonomy of adults:

As much as I hate to see children exposed to secondhand smoke in the home because of the potential health hazards, I simply believe that the privacy rights in the home outweigh the government's interest in regulating a lawful behavior that is merely a potential threat.

Regulating smoking in the home would open the door to a wide range of intrusions into personal privacy that people would, I think, find highly objectionable. I don't think we want to see regulations that require what parents must or must not feed their kids, how much physical activity their children must have, what their kids can or cannot watch on television, what movies children can watch, or whether or not parents are required to put sunscreen on their children when they go outside to play for an hour.

Siegel also notes that drivers who sign up for smoking cessation programs are exempt from fines under the Arkansas law, which makes little sense if the aim really is to protect children from secondhand smoke:

According to this law, as long as you desire to quit smoking and are willing to enter a smoking cessation program to demonstrate that, you are off the hook. You can smoke in your car as much as your heart desires….The police in Arkansas are now being told to turn their attention to the effort to ensure that smokers with young children want to quit smoking. The violation, the police are instructed, is not smoking in a car with kids, but failing to want to quit. In other words, this bill is really [more] about trying to alter lifestyle than it is about actually protecting the public's health.