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Laws prohibit smoking around children

Anti-tobacco forces are opening a new front in the war against smoking by banning it in private places such as homes and cars when children are present.

Starting Jan. 1, Texas will restrict smoking in foster parents' homes at all times and in cars when children are present, says Darrell Azar of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Vermont, Washington and other states and counties already prohibit foster parents from smoking around children in their homes and cars.

Arkansas and Louisiana passed laws this year forbidding anyone from smoking in cars carrying young children. Courts are ordering smoke-free environments in custody and visitation disputes.

�We are very rapidly moving to protect children from secondhand smoke,� says John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. �Even from their own parents and grandparents.�

Former surgeon general Richard Carmona said in June that children exposed to secondhand smoke suffer an increased risk of respiratory ailments and sudden infant death syndrome.

Most smoking bans apply to workplaces and spots like bars and restaurants.

Smokers' rights groups liken banning smoking in private to the �Salem witch hunt,� says Gary Nolan, spokesman for The Smoker's Club, Inc. He says secondhand smoke is not dangerous. �If we don't reverse this, they'll be telling us what we can eat and what we can feed our children,� Nolan says.

Former smoker Bob Mathis, a Democratic state representative in Arkansas, sponsored a law that bars smoking in a car carrying a child young enough to require a car seat. It took effect in July. A violator can be fined $25 but can get out of it with proof of participation in a smoking-cessation program. A similar law took effect in Louisiana in August.

�We have laws on the books in every state of the union against child abuse,� Mathis says. �This is a form of child abuse.�

At least six states and some counties prohibit foster parents from smoking when foster children are present, says Kathleen Dachille, director of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation & Advocacy at the University of Maryland School of Law. �There are times when it's appropriate to regulate what people can do in their home,� she says. �The state is responsible for that child.�

Some courts are ordering parents in custody and visitation disputes not to smoke around their kids.

Initially, courts considered restrictions when children had ailments such as asthma that are exacerbated by smoke, says Linda Elrod, a law professor and editor of Family Law Quarterly. Now, they're more willing to restrict smoking even when there are no obvious health problems, she says. It generally comes up when one parent complains about the other's smoking.

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