Is Smoking Child Abuse?

BBC (among others) reports that California will treat second hand smoke as a form of toxic air pollutant. I assume this will empower a new gang of regulators to join the “war on smoking.” I wonder about the effects of these sorts of decisions on smoking parents.

Courts have begun to confront the argument that smoking around children is a form of child abuse. This claim appears to have surfaced repeatedly in child custody battles, but I don’t think it has become a common basis for state intervention in families. With findings like those in California, I suspect that more states will seek to intervene when parents smoke at home. State involvement can sometimes take a positive form – counseling, for example – but it can also result in removing children into foster care. When the household problem is smoking, I’m not sure this is a good thing.

Second hand smoke is bad for kids. For children with special health problems, such as asthma, it can be devastating. So there is little question that when parents smoke at home, they are doing harm. This might suggest that smoking ought to be considered abuse per se. But should it?

First, I’m uncertain whether the health effects are serious enough to constitute abuse. Parents do lots of crappy things to, and around, their kids. Does smoking cross the line? Second, I don’t totally trust state intervention in families. When the household situation is dire, a state must step in to protect children. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but the repeated evidence of incompetence and neglect by some of these family agencies makes me nervous about their involvement except where truly necessary. Third, I’m not convinced that we want mandatory abuse reporters – doctors, psychologists, social workers and (in some states) lawyers – to report every parent who admits smoking around her child. Mandatory reporting damages relationships with clients, reducing trust and, ultimately, the effectiveness of professional services. This damage is justified only when it prevents truly serious harms.

Then there is the slippery slope problem. Once smoking is viewed as child abuse, prosecutions are likely to follow. And in some jurisdictions, convicted child abusers are subject to Megan’s Law notification.

I don’t have a problem with parents introducing evidence of smoking in disputes over custodial and visitation arrangements. In these cases, the child will typically end up in the custody of at least one parent. I think smoking around kids is a bad thing. Smoking around a child with respiratory problems seems clearly abusive. But should smoking around a healthy child be the basis for removing her from parental custody? I don’t have the answer, but I’m not happy with either result.

You may also like...

21 Responses

  1. KipEsquire says:

    First, I’m uncertain whether the health effects are serious enough to constitute abuse.

    Not that I think this should be the basis for policy-making, but there is also the question of whether a child of a smoker is more likely to become a smoker. I think the statistics point to a probabilistic “yes.”

  2. Garrett says:

    I agree with Kip wholeheartedly. Seeing a parent smoke through their whole life is sure to make a child view smoking as a regular thing to do, and therefore more likely to do it. Plenty of harm is done by second hand smoke in my eyes; even making the child cough more often than other children is abuse to me.

  3. Amy says:

    I have moderate asthma because my mom smoked in the house, often in the same room as me, during my whole childhood (and likely while she was pregnant with me). I’ve often wished over my lifetime there was a law against it.

  4. Dennis J. Tuchler says:

    If smoking is child abuse because it exposes the child the unhealthy conditions, then any parent with a home that is not perfectly up to sanitation standards (and is thereby exposing the child to disease or other harm) is guilty of child abuse.

  5. Mike says:

    Did you just post something arguing that schools should not randomly drug test students because of the bad things the policy teaches students? Seems like parents smoking in front of their kids – putting aside the obvious health risks – also teaches children bad habits.

  6. Kelly says:

    Check out for another impartial view on the second-hand smoke and smoking ban issue.

  7. Roger C. McMillion says:

    Children in pro smoking homes suffer more colds, flus, respiratory tract infections, miss alot more days of school, necessary learning and education, are exposed to the addictive drugs of nicotine and tar and anything else tobacco plants put in there cigarettes without the filter and are alot more susceptible to picking up the addiction,habit whatever you call it thus killing themselves. Death by cigarette, not child abuse, give me a break, thankyou

  8. Roger says:

    Yes it is.

  9. nycarch says:

    I agree that smoking when children are present in the same room is very wrong. However the goverment and ASI should spend more time caring for the children who are victims of REAL abuse such as sexual, physical & menal abuse. I grew up in a household with three smoking adults and five siblings and not one of the children smoke. Although my parents smoked in front of us we still had love, hugs, kisses, a great baseball coach and PTA Mother. We all attended top Prep schools and were exposed to all the wonderful culture NYC had to offer. We traveled the world starting at very young ages and had the best of everything. We all became very educated and acheived our goals. So did my parents abused their children???? No way. I only pray that kids get the same love and support that we did. Gov’t… stick to finding and incarcerating the real criminals!

  10. suepercede says:

    The fact that parents smoke in front of their children in the absence of any other form of abuse speaks volumes in itself. It just shows how self-absorbed some people can be even with the knowledge that they may be doing permanent harm to their children. How hard is it to step outside to have a cigarette? The real crime here is a genuine disrespect for children who cannot make and/or enforce decisions for themselves. Smoking in the presence of a child (or any other person for that matter) dishonors their rights as a person especially in this day and age where information about the effects of smoking permeate our everyday lives.

    My only wish for the parent who supposes they are giving everything to their children is that they be exposed to that same smoke the day that they become ill and can’t handle the smoke anymore.

  11. Kayla says:

    I come home everyday from school wishing that my parents didn’t smoke. Not only that, but if I walk into a room and open the window I get yelled at and they claim “I’m letting the cold air in” maybe if there wasn’t a cloud of smoke in the living room I wouldn’t do that. And also every morning while I am getting ready, my dad wakes up, sits in the living room and smokes a cigarette, while I’m traveling through the house getting ready and having to smell like smoke all day. It’s horrible and there should deffidently be a law against it.

  12. singlemom says:

    My 5 year old son has just started his array of testing to get to the root of his chronic coughing problem. His father, whom he visits every other weekend smokes in his house and his vehicle with our son. In my opinion, his smoking is definately child abuse in this situation. What are we going to do? Wait until these children grow up and all have some form of cancer before we step-up and say “Hmm…maybe we should have given that issue another thought!” Come on people, wake up and read the facts. Our children are being victimized and can’t speak for themselves. Just because we can’t physically see the damage doesn’t mean it’s not abuse!

  13. kotjane kj says:

    smoking around children is avery sirious abuse,reason being ,if a perrent smoke near a child,that particular child will take in close proximity to what his/her parent is doing practice doing that,i think the parrent in that way disrespect the rights the rights of the children

  14. kotjane kj(qwa qwa) says:

    smoking arrond children and in public should be banned ,due to the problem that is caused by smoking habbit

  15. ZACK says:


  16. Sabrina says:

    As a nurse working in Hospice/Long-Term care I’ve seen first hand how 2nd hand smoke kills people. A lung cancer/COPD death is agonizing, imagine very slowly drowning on dry land because SOMEONE ELSE smoked and was too lazy to step outside. Any parent who exposes their child to toxic/life threatening subtances knowingly should be beaten in public.

  17. George says:

    Smoking is child abuse, plain and simple. This is science, not “opinion!” Certainly, in the case of respiratory disease, it would be appropriate to remove the child from the house. Also, if the family lives in a multiple dwelling, it is molestation for the neighbors to smoke in their apartments short of knowledge certain that the smoke is not getting into other apartments.

  18. George says:

    Sorry, what I’m about to say is science not some grand conspiracy against smokers. It is no longer enough to step outside to smoke! If you smoke outside and come back in, you’re dragging the smoke in. If your clothes, your hair, or our skin reeks of the stuff, it’s a hazard to others. Even if you can;t smell it, it’s a hazard. The source for this is the N.Y. Times, not some “alternative media.”

    Link ===>

  19. SBell says:

    Honestly people! Not that your parents were or are bad for smoking is not the issue. The issue is the effects that smoking has on children. By the way, just because you didn’t have asthma when you were younger or a respirtory problem doesn’t mean that it won’t effect you later on in life. You are still more likely to end up with lung or throat cancer and other devistating illnesses. My husband gets his 6 year old son every other weekend. My husband doesn’t smoke and I don’t smoke nor are we EVER around anyone who smokes. The child’s mother does smoke. She even smokes with the windows barely cracked with my step son and her 16 month old daughter in the car! I am almost certain that she smokes inside her house because all the clothes he packs smell like the disgusting stuff. The mother of my step son told us how he was getting ear infections all the time when he was a baby and toddler. She also explained that he was (still is) on ritalin for adhd (which can be caused by a mother smoking while pregnant). She also has him on meds for allergies. She told us that he still coughs a lot even though he is on the meds. One weekend she forgot to pack them so he went the whole weekend with out. Oh yeah. That weekend he was absolutely FINE! He never coughed or anything. Not only that he has yet to have a coughing spell when he’s around us. It’s absolutely rediculous. Is smoking in front of your child actually a form of child abuse? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. All I know is that it is a horrible fate for a child to have to live with that type of role model. That is a complete lack of respect for your child and your child’s health. Whether it causes health problems or not, it’s sad that a parent would risk it! I know we don’t risk it with our daughter or step son even if we did smoke.

  20. Joe Schmoe says:

    Smoking is so bad that there is just no question that it is abuse! Certainly, it should be enforced vigorously around children with respiratory problems. I cannot see any reason it should be tolerated even when the children appear to be healthy.

    There is a new science about “third hand smoke” now. This is the stench that smokers emit from their hair, skin, and clothing even when they are not actively smoking. Science is science, nobody has the right to assume that this goes too far simply because smoking may have been tolerated in the past!

  21. Anonymous says:

    It’s abuse plain and simple. When the child has a respiratory illness, it rises to the level of being serious enough to remove the child from the house, even if there is no underlying custody dispute.

    Smoking harms non-smokers and therefore cannot be addressed as a “rights issue.” This is especially true when children are involved.