Some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable children are at risk from the serious effects of secondhand smoke. It’s time for the state to act in the best interest of children in foster care and protect them from the known cancer-causing poisons and toxins in secondhand smoke. This is why I have introduced a bill in the legislature to prohibit smoking in foster care homes.
The Minnesota Legislature passed the Freedom to Breathe Act in 2007 – historic legislation that made all indoor public places smoke-free. Nearly five years later, the smoke-free law continues to enjoy overwhelming support from Minnesotans of all demographics (79 percent), and the number of voluntarily smoke-free homes is increasing steadily.
Study after study has proven that every breath of secondhand smoke is harmful, leading to serious juvenile and chronic disease and in some cases death. Secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to infants and children, whose bodies are still developing.
Minnesota’s workplaces, restaurants, bars and even some parks are protected from the harm of secondhand smoke, but one of our most vulnerable populations remains outside the scope of this law. One of my constituents brought this gap to my attention: the state’s foster care system, which provides critical and nurturing care to children in need of a loving place to live, is not required to provide a smoke-free environment.
In 2012, nearly 8,000 Minnesota children were placed in foster care. Many of these children have at least one chronic medical condition — often a serious respiratory illness such as asthma — that is exacerbated by exposure to secondhand smoke. Subjecting already-at-risk youth to the more than 7,000 hazardous chemicals that are released into the air by burning tobacco is alarming, especially when these children are in our care. We have a serious responsibility to provide these children with a safe and healthy place to live, free from the dangers of tobacco smoke.
Leadership at the county level
Ensuring smoke-free foster care homes is not a new or complex challenge. In fact, Lake, Beltrami and St. Louis Counties already have adopted smoke-free foster care ordinances and there are efforts in Hennepin, Itasca and Aitkin Counties to follow suit. Smoke-free foster care must be implemented at the county level because funding for these programs is administered locally, but it is the state’s responsibility to set policies that protect all Minnesota kids from the dangers of secondhand smoke no matter what county they live in.
Foster care providers already follow stringent state rules to ensure that the home is a safe shelter for a child because, after all, these children have been removed from their homes for their health and safety. A statewide smoke-free foster care policy will help safeguard their best interests.
As a leader on the House Health and Human Services committee, I am committed to generating continued support for this measure and I am confident that many of my colleagues will agree that an important public interest is at stake.
Minnesotans continue to demand strong leadership on tobacco polices, and at least 18 states are already doing more than we are to protect the health of foster care children through smoke-free foster care policies. It is our moral obligation to protect all our kids from the dangers of secondhand smoke and stand up for even the smallest voices.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL, represents District 30A (Rochester) in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
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