by Rhodri Clark, Western Mail
PARENTS could be banned from smoking in their homes to protect their children’s health, following the success of the smoking ban in public places, legal experts have claimed.
But such a ban may not happen for many years, because society is not yet ready for such a draconian step, they admit.
One legal option would rest on the human rights of children, whose health is damaged more by passive smoking than adults’.
However, human rights rulings usually balance the rights of two sets of people, and one legal expert said judges would currently come down in favour of an adult’s right to smoke in their home rather than the child’s right to breathe clean air.
The ban on smoking in public places across Britain appears to have improved health already.
On Monday it emerged that heart-attack admissions to Scottish hospitals had dropped 17% in the first year of Scotland’s smoking ban.
Researchers also said a national evaluation found a 39% reduction in secondhand smoke exposure in 11-year-olds and in adult non-smokers.
There was no evidence yet of smoking shifting from public places into homes.
But the British Medical Association says five million children in the UK are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes. Those children are at higher risk of:
Impaired breathing, as children and adults;
Middle-ear disease, which can be fatal.
They may also be at greater risk than other children of becoming asthmatic in the first place and of developing childhood cancer.
Scottish research shows that even education is impaired, since children who live with smokers are 44% to 77% more likely to miss school than other children.
Prof Nigel Lowe, deputy head of Cardiff Law School, said smoking in homes could be addressed through smaller steps, such as smoke-free homes being a condition of fostering and adoption.
“The big leap will have to wait until the little leaps have been made,” said Prof Lowe, an expert in child law.
“Who would have predicted 20 or 30 years ago that we couldn’t smoke on trains or planes or in public places?
“The next logical step would be to protect the children, but I think we’re quite a long way from that.
“I could see that it could happen. No current judge, I would predict, in England or Wales would be prepared to make that huge jump yet. But I wouldn’t rule it out forever.
“The thing about human rights which always gets us into problem areas is that you’ve always got to balance it against other people’s rights.”
While some might argue that a child’s rights were infringed by smoking in the home, others would argue that adults have the right to respect for their private family lives. The ban on smoking in public places was premised on workers’ rights to a smoke-free workplace. Workers can choose their workplace, while children do not choose their parents or homes.
But Prof Lowe said, “There’s a material difference between what you do in your own house and what you do outside.”
Wendy Hopkins, a specialist family lawyer in South Wales, said it was premature for family law to proscribe smoking in the home.
“Those are areas in which family law could go. There’s no doubt that children living in a household where there’s a heavy smoker are much more at risk.”
If one parent smoked, the family courts might take that into account when deciding on who had custody of children, she added.
Dr Tony Calland, who chairs the BMA’s Welsh council, said the arguments against smoking in children’s homes were as strong as those against smoking in workplaces, but he did not believe further legislation should be passed.
“It’s the principle that’s the important thing – that you shouldn’t poison anyone, including your own children.
“What will happen in time, and I think is already happening, is that smoking is becoming socially unacceptable.
“That will become the driver. It’s a social evolution process, rather than being told by the Government or police or BMA that you mustn’t smoke.”