Smoking foes try to stop parents from lighting up

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Anti-smoking activists who are driving cigarettes from public places across the country are now targeting private homes — especially those with children.

Their efforts so far have contributed to regulations in three states — Maine, Oklahoma and Vermont — forbidding foster parents from smoking around children. Parental smoking also has become a critical point in some child-custody cases, including ones in Virginia and Maryland.

In a highly publicized Virginia case, a judge barred Caroline County resident Tamara Silvius from smoking around her children as a condition for child visitation.

Mrs. Silvius, a waitress at a truck stop in Doswell, Va., calls herself “highly disappointed” with the court’s ruling.

“I’m an adult. Who is anybody to tell me I can’t smoke or drink?” she said in an interview yesterday.

An appeals court upheld the ruling, but not before one judge raised questions about the extent to which a court should become involved in parental rights and whether certain behavior is harmful or simply not in a child’s best interest.

Mrs. Silvius says she complied with the decision by altering her smoking habits.

“My children know not to come around when I’m on the front porch with my morning coffee, tending to my cows or out in my garden, because I’m having a cigarette,” she said.

Still, she thinks this was not a matter for the courts because it was not proven that she posed a risk to her children’s health.

“If a child suffers from asthma or some sort of problem, the courts shouldn’t even have to be told to [step in],” Mrs. Silvius said. “That should be the parent’s better judgment. But my kids aren’t sick. If there’s no health issue, it isn’t the court’s place to say someone can’t do something that’s perfectly legal, just because the other spouse doesn’t want them to.”

The smoking-at-home issue also sparked debate about whether such rulings will lead courts to become involved in such matters as parents’ making poor TV programming choices for their children.

The nonprofit group Action on Smoking and Health is among the most outspoken on stopping parents from smoking around children.

“Children are the most vulnerable and the most defenseless victims of tobacco smoke,” Executive Director John F. Banzhaf III said. “They should be entitled to the same protection as adults.”

Mr. Banzhaf, also a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, said most complaints are made by nonsmoking ex-spouses, although some are filed by neighbors, relatives and physicians.

Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, which provides adoption services, considers smoking a factor in deciding who will receive a child, but guidelines do not specifically address the issue.

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