New smoking laws will lead to healthier lives for children

This week’s announcement that smoking will now be prohibited outside Victorian schools, hospitals and police stations from April 13 will no doubt be welcomed by health authorities and non-smokers alike. 

Lighting up within four metres of the entrance to Victorian government institutions could cost smokers a $147 fine and no doubt will start a chorus of mutterings about nanny states.

But the idea of patients smoking outside a cancer centre has a bizarre incongruity about it and this change may go some way to making it a thing of the past.  If smoking in and around hospitals is a grim reminder of an indifferent past, then the hope of completely smoke-free schools sends a more salutary message to the future generation.

Under the legislation smoking will also be banned at childcare centres, kindergartens and pre-schools which, with the ban already imposed on playgrounds, at least promises a child the benefit of growing up in a smoke-free environment.

This makes even more sense when the evidence around the effects of passive smoking continues to grow. 

This week a University of Tasmania research project found children whose parents smoke have almost twice the risk of having plaque in their carotid artery – risking heart disease when they reach adulthood – compared with those whose parents do not smoke.

The report also found parents who were careful about where they smoked, such as outside away from their kids, had children with significantly lower rates of carotid plaque in adulthood than the children of parents who smoked inside the home or car. Increasingly, children will see that smoking has no part in the places they frequent and less and less a place in their lives. 

One of the other most successful cultural shifts the anti- smoking lobby has achieved is to make what was once so “cool” and desirable become socially unacceptable. 

The watershed moment of keeping smokers out of bars, restaurants and other venues suddenly meant the allure of the appearance of smoking was removed from key places of social activity. 

It has only been a matter of decades but the thought of people smoking in planes, or cinemas or banks let alone hospitals is almost unthinkable.

This latest step may help put it out of mind for those who want to give up and those who in future do not want to start.

Ultimately smoking like any other health decisions is a matter of personal choice but these incremental steps will help those who have not yet chosen or perhaps find it hard to choose that little bit easier.