March 9, 2013 6:33 AM

A question for Republicans: What's so "Nanny State" about protecting children?

Smoking a cigarette — or anything else for that matter — in a car when a minor is present would be against the law under a bill that moved forward Thursday at the Oregon Legislature. Senate Bill 444 moved out of a committee and is headed to the Senate floor. Under the bill, a smoker would face a maximum $250 fine if caught smoking in a car with someone under 18 years old. The bill would make such smoking a secondary offense, meaning cops could cite someone they had pulled over for speeding or some other violation.

When I was but a wee lad, my father smoked in our car when we drove places. During the dead of a Minnesota winter, one just doesn’t roll a window down, and so I was forced to vicariously smoke right along with Dad. Of course, that was back in the “Good Ol’ Days,” before second-hand smoke was recognized as a significant health risk. I’ve often wondered how much damage I suffered from those years of enforced second-hand smoking. I’ll never know, of course, and I seem to have come out on the other side relatively unscathed. Still, I can’t help but wonder why children in similar situations today have no recourse but to remain silent while their father poisons both himself and his innocent children. Who stands up for the children…or does a parent have an absolute right to treat his or her offspring as property and without rights?

A bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature (which, sadly, is WAY less interesting than the Texas Legislature) would make it a crime for a parent to do what my father did to me. I have a hard time coming up with a credible argument against this bill…but then my point of view has some personal history behind it. If a parent wants to poison themselves, that’s their right. Children shouldn’t be forced into a position where they’ve no choice but to breathe second-hand cigarette smoke. This bill is about protecting the rights and health of children; if a parent won’t do the right thing by their progeny, then it falls upon the state to act to protect those without a voice.

This is the sort of thing that most Oregonians can and likely will easily get behind. At least one Republican is not nearly so sanguine about SB444:

It took all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee all of three minutes to amend the bill to more clearly spell out that it includes cigars, pot and any other combustible substance, and then vote it out. Only one member, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg objected.

“Indeed it is a nanny state bill,” Kruse said. “At what point is the government going to stop regulating our lives? In my mind, we’re going way too far.”

After the meeting, Kruse said smoking in a car with a minor present might be a dumb thing to do, but people should have the freedom to make their own bad decisions.

A “nanny state bill?” Really? So you’re saying that a parent has the inalienable right to place their children in a position where they have no option but to inhale second-hand cigarette smoke? A parent has an absolute to place the health of their children in jeopardy? If a parent can’t handle the simple responsibility of not harming their children, why shouldn’t the state step in to protect them?

In a car, there’s virtually no way for a child to escape exposure to cigarette smoke. Their only option is to breathe and vicariously smoke along with their parent. That’s what my father did to me; it’s as wrong and irresponsible now as it was then.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, a physician who is spearheading the bill, said she’s not trying to limit anyone’s freedom, just protect kids.

“I appreciate people’s concerns about intervention,” she said. “I would never dream of saying people can’t smoke in their own homes.”

But in a car, she said, there’s no way for the child to escape the second-hand smoke, which can lead to problems such as asthma. “I’d much rather prevent illness than cure it.”

Certainly, we should seriously consider the consequences of any measure that increases governmental involvement in our lives. In this case, SB444 is about protecting the health of children from the addiction of their parents. That’s not a “nanny state bill,” that’s stepping in to protect a children when a parent can’t see their way clear to doing it themselves.

Children may not have a vote, but that shouldn’t be taken as meaning they have no rights. If a parent can’t demonstrate recognition of their responsibility to protect their children and to value health over addiction, then the state should step in to protect children. That’s not “nanny state,” that’s simply standing up for and protecting those who lack a voice.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on March 9, 2013 6:33 AM.

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