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Smokers Should Lose Child Custody – Intl Family Law Conf

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 23, 2016): Fighting smoking by challenging the custody of parents who smoke around their children, and requiring emergency room physicians to file complaints of suspected child abuse against parents whose children arrive in hospitals in respiratory distress because of their parents’ smoking, are only two of the proposals put forth on the opening day of the North American Regional Conference of the International Society for Family Law.

The lawyers who handle many of the nation’s divorce and custody cases, and influence many others, were also urged to take legal action to prohibit smoking when foster children are in a house or car, and to punish parents or others who smoke when children are in the car, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

At their annual conference beginning today, the most influential lawyers and law professors in the family law area were reminded that, as the New York Times reported, “at least 6,200 children die each year in the United States because of their parents’ smoking . . . More young children are killed by parental smoking than by all unintentional injuries combined,” and that parental smoking annually causes over five million serious ailments which add almost five billion dollars to the nation’s medical expense costs.

Attendees were told how to effectively raise the issue of parental smoking in custody proceedings, and how to either prohibit smoking indoors at least 48 hours before the child arrives, or to deny Child Custody to the smoking parents. Several cases in which the children of parents who lost Child Custody because they smoked around their offspring were discussed, says Banzhaf, who was the major presenter on this controversial topic.

Banzhaf, who has been called “The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials,” “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” and “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” also explained how emergency room physicians who fail to file complaints of suspected child abuse when parental smoking causes allergic or other serious reactions to the child may be subject to both criminal and civil liability, how their licenses to practice may be challenged, and how they could even be hit with medical malpractice law suits.

Child Custody

He explained that Massachusetts, for example, requires reporting of possible child abuse for “all but the most negligible or de minimis injuries to children,” including even slight bruising, and that mere suspicion by the physician is enough to trigger this legal requirement.

They were told that family law attorneys have a moral and perhaps also a legal responsibility to protect children, especially infants and toddlers, from deadly carcinogenic secondhand tobacco smoke, and to use the legal proceedings in which they are involved, as well as their influence with law makers, to insure this protection.

They were reminded that “‘With great power comes great responsibility’ is more than a catch-phrase from a Spiderman movie.”

“We, as attorneys, probably have greater power than other professionals to right wrongs, and to change society for the better, because we can use the tremendous power of law for the public good rather than just to benefit paying clients. And you, as family attorneys, can and should be using the great power of law to right serious wrongs being done to children,” Banzhaf told them.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA

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