MOTHER MAY LOSE CUSTODY OVER SMOKING, EVEN IN KENTUCKY


The following is a press release issued by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) describing an ongoing case in Kentucky, and citing from a recent study about the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke on children. A brief excerpt from the study is also presented.


ASH PRESS RELEASE:

Even in Kentucky, a mother may lose custody of her two sons because she allegedly subjects them to secondhand tobacco smoke.

She now has primary custody of a six-year old son who has allergies and must get shots, and a nine-year-old who like his younger brother has frequent throat and ear infections. Her former husband is seeking primary custody, claiming that her smoking is a major factor in causing these medical problems, and other risks to the health of his children.

The case is hardly not the first, since in at least fifteen states courts have held that subjecting children to secondhand smoke can and should be a factor in deciding custody. These states include California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Moreover, a recent comprehensive report based upon dozens of studies in major medical journals concludes that secondhand tobacco smoke kills between 136 and 212 kids every year from lower respiratory tract infections.

The report also blames adult smoking around children for causing: 354,000 to 2.2 million episodes of otitis media (ear infections); 5200 to 165, 000 tympanostomies (tubes inserted in ears); 14,000 to 21,000 tonsillectomies and/or adenoidectomies; 529,000 physician visits for asthma; 1.3 to 2 million physician visits for coughs; 260,000 to 436,000 episodes of bronchitis in children under 5 years of age; and 115,000 to 190,000 episodes of pneumonia in children younger than 5 years of age.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says subjecting young children to tobacco smoke causes: 150,000-300,000 lower respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis; 7,500- 15,000 hospitalizations; 200,000-1,000,000 asthma attacks; 8,000-26,000 new cases of asthma; increased middle ear effusion; respiratory symptoms of irritation; significantly reduced lung function; and a large increase in the risk of death from S.I.D.S. [sudden infant death syndrome].

ASH assists nonsmokers in custody disputes involving smoking.


EXCERPTS FROM:

Joseph R. DiFranza, MD and Robert A. Lew, MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY IN CHILDREN ASSOCIATED WITH THE USE OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS BY OTHER PEOPLE, Pediatrics 1996; 97: 560, April, 1996.

ABSTRACT. Objective. To evaluate the impact of adult tobacco use on the health of children.

Results. Each year, among American children, tobacco is associated with an estimated 284 to 360 deaths from lower respiratory tract illnesses and fires initiated by smoking materials, more than 300 fire-related injuries, 354000 to 2.2 million episodes of otitis media, 5200 to 165 000 tympanostomies, 14000 to 21000 tonsillectomies and/or adenoidectomies, 529000 physician visits for asthma, 1.3 to 2 million visits for coughs, and in children younger than 5 years of age, 260000 to 436000 episodes of bronchitis and 115000 to 190000 episodes of pneumonia.

Conclusions. The use of tobacco products by adults has an enormous adverse impact on the health of children. Although more research is needed in several areas, action to reduce the morbidity and mortality among children should not be delayed. New laws and policies are needed to grant children protection from bodily injury and death attributable to the use of tobacco products by others.

TEXT: Some people may choose to assume the risks associated with smoking, but this is not the case with children who are involuntary smokers. Children of smokers have a disproportionate number of medical conditions. This study estimates the number of children who are adversely affected by involuntary smoking.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

A series of best-case estimates based on the most conservative of assumptions has been presented. Even if these estimates were to overstate the impact of ETS by an order of magnitude, it still would be evident that tobacco products place an enormous burden of illness on children, far greater than would be tolerated of any other product.

More than 20 states have enacted laws granting smokers the right to smoke when they are not working. [n118] Yet, not a single state has enacted a law recognizing the right of children to remain free from bodily harm as a result of the smokers' use of tobacco products. Smoking should be banned wherever children are present. Children should be excluded from designated smoking areas. Organizations that cater to children should guarantee them smoke-free environments at all facilities and events.

Potential exposure to ETS should be one of many factors considered in custody cases and situations in which children are placed in homes. Continued household exposure to ETS for asthmatic children despite physicians' advice to the contrary may constitute neglect or abuse.


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