Trapped in a car with a smoker

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - LOR­RAINE SOMMERFELD

WHEN I was eight years old, I had surgery on my foot, which meant a cast and crutches, and it also meant I couldn’t take the school bus. In­stead, for a few weeks I got to go in a taxi. The taxi was awe­some; I got to sit in the front and muck with the me­ter, and chat­ter to my per­sonal chauf­feur, Marie. She was kind and gruff and chain-smoked the en­tire ride, her grav­elly voice no doubt the re­sult of those end­less cig­a­rettes.

I was fas­ci­nated, watch­ing her use the car’s lighter. I’d in­hale as deeply as I could as the ini­tial curl of smoke left the crack­ling tobacco. I can still see the red pack­ag­ing and the block let­ter­ing of the brand: Du Mau­rier. I told my­self, when I was old enough I, too, would smoke Dumo-reers.

I never did take up smok­ing, be­cause eightyear-olds are cu­ri­ous and eas­ily awed and some­times dumb — and that’s why they don’t get to do things like smoke and drink and drive cars. But to this day, I re­mem­ber the over­whelm­ing urge, in just those few short weeks, to mimic this be­hav­iour. There was a time when eightyear-olds (and the adults around them) thought it was per­fectly OK to be trapped in a sealed box in­hal­ing one of man’s most per­fect car­cino­gens: cig­a­rette smoke.

I don’t blame Marie, or my non-smok­ing par­ents. Around this time, nearly half of Cana­di­ans over the age of 15 smoked; that num­ber has tum­bled in the en­su­ing decades and now sits at just un­der 20 per cent. Be­gin­ning in 2008, most ar­eas of Canada be­gan mak­ing it il­le­gal to smoke in a car with oc­cu­pants un­der the age of 16 (19 in Nova Sco­tia). Nu­navut, the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries and Que­bec are still cool with let­ting the young­sters steep in the toxic waste of sec­ond-hand smoke.

Th­ese three places also have higher-thanaver­age smoker rates; in fact Nu­navut is three times the na­tional av­er­age. Won’t any­one think of the chil­dren?

Eng­land is set to adopt a ver­sion of this law later this year, fol­low­ing the lead of only a hand­ful of other coun­tries. More are head­ing that way, but con­sid­er­ing all we know about sec­ond-hand smoke, it’s a lit­tle mind-blow­ing so many can con­tinue to be­lieve it’s fine to belt kids into cars like tiny hostages and sub­ject them to this.

I re­mem­ber when On­tario in­tro­duced the ban — yet an­other nanny-state re­stric­tion, went the rhetoric — but re­ally, how much can you ar­gue? I agreed we shouldn’t have to make it a law; I also rec­og­nize it was the only way to force peo­ple to stop do­ing it.

Ba­bies can’t speak for them­selves, and all chil­dren of smok­ers have a far greater risk of them­selves be­com­ing smok­ers. I don’t know a par­ent alive who gazes lov­ingly at their new­born and hopes they will grow up to be ad­dicted to nico­tine.

When smok­ing got pushed out of restau­rants and work­places and malls and are­nas, I was thrilled. That eight-year-old me had out­grown her fas­ci­na­tion. For much of my life, it had been a smoker’s world and while I knew I was in the ma­jor­ity, we were, in­deed, mostly si­lent. Science helped us out. If you’re a mi­graine sufferer, you’ll know why I’d like to see it ex­tended to peo­ple who bathe in per­fume or cologne.

If you’re pur­chas­ing a new car, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ash­tray and a lighter as stock equip­ment. You have to or­der a spe­cial “smoker’s pack­age,” as man­u­fac­tur­ers max­i­mize space for more toys and tech as they cap­i­tal­ize on shrink­ing smok­ing rates. I see far fewer piles of cig­a­rette butts in park­ing lots, hope­fully mean­ing peo­ple have stopped with that filthy habit of dump­ing their ash­trays.

For those who still toss their cig­a­rette butts out the win­dow: please know there is a spe­cial place in the af­ter­life where you will have to face ev­ery mo­tor­cy­clist who has had to dodge them.

Many of us view our ve­hi­cles as an ex­ten­sion of our homes. We own them, we main­tain them, and we’ll do what we want in them. And I agree. I mean, I won’t buy a used car from you and nei­ther will a lot of other peo­ple, but it’s your right to law­fully do what­ever you want in your pri­vate space. Just don’t tor­ture ev­ery­one else, re­gard­less of age. We shouldn’t need a law for that.

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