Smokers May Lose Custody of Children as a Result of New Study

Decisions Already Denying Custody to Smoking Parent Likely to Multiply In Light of New Evidence of Harmfulness of Tobacco Smoke to Kids

A new study documenting for the first time just how deadly tobacco smoke is to children is likely to prompt even more courts to deny custody to smokers, says the law professor whose work led to the growing trend, and to court orders which now prohibit all smoking in hundreds of homes.

Each year smoking in the home kills almost 300 children, seriously injures 300 more, causes more than 300,000 new cases of asthma, over 350,000 ear infections (including 5,200 ear operations), at least 14,000 other operations, and makes four million children sick enough to require a visit to a doctor, according to a new study by Dr. Joseph DiFranza in the journal Pediatrics.

Even before the release of this study, courts in at least a dozen states have held that a judge may deny custody to a parent who willfully exposes his or her child to tobacco smoke.

In most cases a loss of custody is avoided when the smoking parent agrees to the issuance of a court order prohibiting any smoking in the home, sometimes for days before a child is to visit.

In other cases, however, parents who exposed children to tobacco smoke have in fact lost custody, and the release of this new study is likely to accelerate this trend, says law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a national antismoking organization.

"Any other condition or practice in homes which killed almost 300 children each year and made four million sick enough to require a doctor would be immediately condemned as a form of child abuse," says Banzhaf, noting that courts have begun to treat exposing kids to tobacco smoke in just that way.

Indeed, in at least two cases, parents lost custody when a "child abuse," "child neglect," or similar complaint was filed by an outsider; in one case by a physician.

Professor Banzhaf says that such complaints are warranted in many cases by existing law, and urges physicians, school nurses, and even grandparents to file them where appropriate.


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