Back in the 1960s, Ralph Nader got rid of all the pointy instruments inside cars and nagged automakers into adding seatbelts. (Mom sold the Corvair.). Next, cops got huffy if you had one little beer open anywhere in the car. (Dad's Saturday errands took much longer.) So when I read that Washington State has two bills pushing a ban on smoking in vehicles when a child is aboard, I have two simultaneous reactions:
(1) It's about time.
(2) My parents would have quit driving completely.
I spent my entire childhood careening around New England in smoke-filled cars, my mother's massive Ford Galaxy and my dad's Chevy station wagon with the NBC peacock on the door and In Living Color! emblazoned on the back. (A perk for TV station managers that I loved and which humiliated my teenage sister.)
I spent long trips hanging out the side window like a dog. (Quit whining, the bugs will wash off your glasses.) No one seemed to worry about respiratory risks or cancer; the bigger threat was more immediate: (If you sit behind me, damn it, make sure your window is rolled up before I throw my cigarette out!) I've never understood much about wind currents or practical physics, but I have an excellent grasp of how it happens that a still-burning butt, when tossed out the front of a car will invariably come right into the back window.
In this age of mandatory car seats for kids, it sounds awful, but consider the context. Smoking happened everywhere except houses of worship and some movie theaters. People lit up waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room and give them their test results. It would have made zero sense to hold off lighting up in the place most guaranteed to be stressful: Enclosed space, numbing road noise (those cars were not quiet inside); squabbling kids just out of reach; no tidy rest areas, and all while hurtling along at high speeds–sometimes with a spouse in the passenger seat, second-guessing every lane change. Who wouldn't suck in some nicotine?
It's different now. We know the risks, the public smoking-allowed areas have shrunk to the size of Post-its. It's inevitable that smoking bans for more private spaces will happen. The claim of government interference is too lame to stick when the evidence of harm from secondhand smoke is so strong. Even the tobacco industry is going along quietly on this one. (Hoping, I imagine, that we will tolerate their targeted pushing of product to those same kids for a bit longer.)
Short of some bizarre collective brain-melt in the Legislature, Washington will join the other states that have passed or are considering this no-brainer ban. Even a city in Maine, a state that in recent memory planned school vacations so that kids up north could work during potato harvesting, is taking up the issue.
Yup, it's time. But moms and dads–you have my sympathy. No number of gadgets–DVD, GPS, satellite radio–will be as calming as that first drag, it's true. Hang in there.