Thursday, 13 February 2014

"Smoking" Gun Evidence of Inconsistency


Parliament is now going to change the law on stealing food. It thinks stealing food is bad, but it thinks stealing some food is worse than stealing other food. From now on if you steal fresh fruit, chocolate or bread you will have committed a crime; but if you steal cereal, tinned food or crisps you will have committed no crime. Sound absurd? It is, but it is no more absurd than the government's latest 'no smoking' policy.

Parliament thinks subjecting children to cigarette smoke is bad, so it has passed a law to make it illegal to smoke in a car when there is a child in the back. But it has made no law against smoking whilst pregnant or smoking 40 a day in the living room surrounded by children.

My intention here is not to comment on whether the 'no smoking in a car with children' law is a good or bad move - it is to say that Parliament's position on this is inconsistent by being incomplete. Either it is a bad thing to harm children with your cigarette smoke or it is not. The State says it is, and most people agree. Therefore if the State is committed to a view that harming children with your cigarette smoke is bad enough to be illegal in the car, it should be consistent in being committed to a view that harming children with your cigarette smoke whilst pregnant or smoking 40 a day in the home should also be illegal.

Some would argue that smoking in the car with the child is more harmful to the child than smoking when pregnant. It seems obvious to me that the opposite is true. Car journeys are occasional and usually brief; whereas being pregnant is a constant nine month process. Who would you rather be: a child in the back seat whose parent sometimes opens the window when they drive, has one cigarette whilst holding it out the window, and blows any exhaled smoke outside, or a foetus inside a mother who smokes 10 cigarettes a day for eight and a half months? Whilst neither would be ideal, I'd choose the former.

Banning smoking in the house sounds like a step too far. Not banning smoking whilst being pregnant sounds like a failure to act. But in declaring that harming children with cigarette smoke is bad enough to warrant a law being passed to law to make it illegal to smoke in a car but not whilst pregnant or chain-smoking around kids in the home, Parliament has created a difficult position for itself, where it is either compelled to pour more fuel on the flames of legislation it considers necessary and extend the ban to pregnancy and home, or it has to adopt an inconsistent position whereby all flames are equal but some are more equal than others.

* Photo courtesy of cararena.com

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