Rule would shield foster children from secondhand smoke
MONTPELIER — When an 8-year-old girl arrived at her foster home she had severe asthma, used an inhaler twice a day, gasped for air and visited the doctor often, her foster mother said.
She had come from homes of smokers.
Within six months at her new home, she no longer needed an inhaler.
"That's what smoking can do," her foster mother said.
Now Vermont, like a handful of other states, wants to protect other foster children from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
A proposed regulation would prohibit foster parents from exposing children to secondhand smoke in their homes and vehicles.
"We just felt with all the mounting evidence regarding the health effects on children, particularly, from secondhand smoke, we just felt it was time we took a stand," said Lucy Abair, director of residential licensing for the Vermont Department of Children and Families.
The legislative rules committee will review the regulation next Thursday.
At least five other states, including Maine, in some measure ban smoking in certain foster care settings.
Arkansas prohibits smoking in rooms with children under 30 months of age and Arizona bars foster parents from using tobacco products in an enclosed area with a foster child. Maine bans smoking in a foster home within 12 hours of the child arriving there and in a vehicle within 12 hours of transporting a foster child.
Under Vermont's proposal, foster parents must ensure that children in state custody not be exposed to secondhand smoke in the foster parent's home or vehicle. Parents would be allowed to smoke outside and away from children but not in the presence of children, Abair said. Oregon and Washington have similar regulations.
The policy has support from staff who work with foster children and families, Abair said.
She says she's heard from a handful of foster parents who oppose the measure because they believe it would be an imposition or that isn't necessary or that it would be an invasion of privacy.
But the response so far has been more positive than negative, she said. A public hearing in June drew three people, all of whom supported the proposal.
"People who go into foster care are people who care about health and safety of children," Abair said. "Most (who smoke) already smoke outside the home," she said.
"I think it's long overdue," said Nancy Taplin, who has cared for foster children in her Bethel home for 15 years.
"I know it's hard to quit (smoking)," she said. "No one is asking them (parents) to stop smoking. They only have to stop smoking when children are in the house or in the car."
According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults and between 35,000 to 40,000 deaths from heart disease each year in this country.
The carcinogen also causes between 150,000 and 300,000 respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, in children younger than 18 months each year and increases the frequency and severity of asthma attacks in asthmatic children.
On the Net: American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
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