Is second-hand smoke child abuse?
Should parents who smoke while children are in their car be charged with child abuse?
As overreaching as it may sound, the North Platte police chief actually is looking into the issue, and he isn't alone.
And you can't escape the logic.
According to a 670-page study released by the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Opening a window on the car or house won't help, and children, with their developing bodies, are vulnerable to childhood illnesses such as asthma as well as heart disease, lung cancer and a host of other illnesses.
According to the American Lung Association, 43 percent of children are exposed to second-hand smoke in their own homes, and 85 percent of the children have detectable levels of cotinine, which is produced when nicotine breaks down. It also can cause pneumonia, bronchitis and fluid buildup in the middle ear, the most common cause of childhood hearing loss. And, a California Environmental Protection Agency study estimated 1,900 to 2,700 cases of SIDS -- sudden infant death syndrom -- each year are associated with exposure to second-hand smoke.
The North Platte chief told the North Platte Telegraph that comparing the Surgeon General's report with the state statute on child abuse indicates subjecting a child to second-hand smoke is a clear violation.
"The fact that the injury isn't immediate, we feel is irrelevant," he told the newspaper.
Already, Arkansas passed a law prohibiting smoking in a car with a child, and Utah and Michigan lawmakers are considering the same.
If the study is to be believed, authorities have reason to be concerned. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are, indeed, in danger.
But what's next?
How about parents talking on a cellular phone while driving? Or those who feed their children too much food, high in fat and sugar? Or parents who don't make kids go to bed on time, bathe or brush their teeth?
A case could be made for charging parents of children who don't have proper diet, nutrition or exercise with child abuse as well.
Yes, there's no excuse for smoking around a child, especially one confined to a car seat.
But law enforcement's ability to impose responsible parenting skills on those who lack it can only go so far.