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How about butting out of family life?

With its latest guilt-tripping wheeze, the anti-smoking lobby seems intent on turning our children against us.

Sally Millard

Topics Politics

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Back in November last year, anti-smoking campaigners scored something of an own goal in their attempt to purge UK cars of smokers. Lifestyle lecturers-in-chief, the British Medical Association, claimed that smoking in cars generates 23 times more toxins than you would have found in a smoky bar. This certainly sounded impressively frightening. And well it might, because as the BMA was subsequently forced to admit, it was also wrong.

The anti-smoking lobby is back, however, and this time it is using kids to promote its message. So it was that this week the British Lung Foundation launched an online pledge in which adults across the UK are asked to commit to keeping their cars smoke-free when children are passengers. According to the BLF’s campaign material: ‘Children have sent a strong message to their parents that they no longer want to endure a smoky car ride. Parents can listen to their children’s concerns and take this pledge to protect young lungs from the damage caused by cigarette fumes in the car.’

Putting aside the fact that the BLF have seen fit once again to quote the contested evidence that ‘one cigarette in a car, even with the window open, creates a greater concentration of second-hand smoke than a whole evening’s smoking in a pub’, the campaign raises an important question: why exactly are children sending this now press-released message to their parents?

As a parent who smokes – shock horror! – I am well aware of the messages that children now pass on to their parents about smoking. It is not surprising that they do. After all, as soon as children start at nursery, they are taught about the evils of smoking and are coached to tell adults that we shouldn’t smoke because it will ‘make you die’. Throw into this hectoring mix the advertising campaigns and the anti-smoking messages within children’s TV programmes, and the British Lung Foundation probably wouldn’t have to ask too many children to find several who want to send a ‘strong message’ that they don’t like smoking in cars.

The long-term use of children in this way is telling. It shows that the anti-smoking lobby, having failed to convince us as adults that smoking should be banned, have instead resorted to using our children to guilt-trip us into accepting ever-creeping restrictions on smoking.

And it certainly seems to be working. While I know a lot of parents who smoke (despite the copious health warnings), I don’t know of any who do so in their own homes, and certainly not in the car. This shows that despite the lack of evidence in relation to secondary smoking, we have already guiltily succumbed to our children’s state-sponsored campaign of persuasion. We, as adults, tend to stand out in the garden or on the street to have our crafty, secret, but still pleasurable cigarette. Perhaps it is now even more pleasurable because we know we are breaking one of the many rules of being a parent.

But it is surely a sad state of affairs when, as adults, we have to sneak around behind the bike shed to have a cigarette, just like we used to when we ourselves were children. Back then, of course, I thought being a ‘grown-up’ would mean that I could decide for myself what I did, as long as I didn’t break the law. And smoking itself is not against the law (yet).

Using our children to wage campaigns against how we, as adults, choose to act does neither us nor our children any favours. By encouraging children to take the moral highground over how their parents behave, the British Lung Foundation is joining schools and other institutions in undermining parental authority over our children as well as questioning our independence as adults.

When I was a child my mum used to tell me, ‘do as I say, not as I do’. This little saying held an important message. It meant that my mum was in charge, and that she could hold the line over what I was and wasn’t allowed to do. But I also understood that as an adult she had the independence and authority to make decisions about her own life that were nothing to do with me. This made growing up into an exciting prospect because it meant that one day I, too, would have the freedom to make my own choices.

Today, this has been turned on its head. When the British Lung Foundation tells parents to listen to our ‘children’s concerns’ about smoking in cars, they are turning us into children who must ‘do as they say’. All of which raises an important question: what will make our children want to grow up today if all they can expect in return is to be told off as if they were children?

Sally Millard is a founder member of the Institute of Ideas Parents Forum.

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Topics Politics

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