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Public opinion shifts can be marked. What was once taboo becomes acceptable, and vice versa. Often, the change comes in a rush, and sometimes in stages. Think, in broad terms, about attitudes to women, homosexual law reform (as it was known) and any number of issues.
The change in attitudes to cigarette smoking over two generations has been enormous. By the 1960s, the harmful effects were well established, although the tobacco industry continued for years to put up smokescreens. The habit was restricted and made more expensive over the following decades.
The plan, announced last weekend, to ban smoking in cars where those under age 18 are present is the latest step. Even a few years ago this might have been considered too much an infringement on the rights of parents. Even in 2017, the National-led government rejected a Health Select Committee recommendation on the matter, saying there was ``no point putting a law in place that's likely to be flouted''. Present initiatives were sufficient.
But the current planned legislation will receive widespread support. The rights of children not to breathe secondhand smoke in a confined space are more important than the rights of adults in cars, even if they are the parents.
It is little wonder smokers feel besieged. The tax on cigarettes rises by 10% a year and the cost is now among the highest in the world. Smoking was banned on domestic aircraft in 1988 and on international flights in 1996. The Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 banned smoking in schools and most workplaces. A 2003 amendment spread the ban to hospitality venues. Smoking has also been banned in stadiums, on university campuses and in children's playgrounds. The sale of single cigarettes was stubbed out in 1998.
The smoker has become more and more a modern-day leper, pushed into pockets outside or into their own private home.
Smokers could well fear what is next. Will smoking be banned in all vehicles? Will smoking in your own home become illegal where there are children?
New Zealand is aiming to be ``Smokefree'' by 2025, which actually means smoking rates below 5%. But, even with more expense, more restrictions and more efforts encouraging non-smoking, the goal looks unattainable. The present rate is 16%, down nine percentage points from 25% in 1996-97. Every small improvement is hard won.
At least, banning smoking in cars with under-18s - despite what should be a general reluctance to act as ``nanny state'' - is a small positive move to limit smoking and protect the health of children.
It is reasonable, too, to extend the smoking ban to vaping. We are only now beginning to learn about vaping's harmful effects, although it would be surprising if they are anything like of the same order as tobacco smoking.
It is, of course, somewhat ironic that, as the drive to limit cigarette smoking burns on relentlessly, pressure grows that would allow another sort of smoking - marijuana - to become legal, albeit with restrictions.
The question of enforcement was a stated reason not to act in 2017. It is now proposed there be warnings and the option of a $50 fine. Education campaigns might be well and good. But they only go so far. Often, consequences by way of penalties are required before many will take notice.
Laws on seatbelts and child restraints in cars have prompted behaviour changes. Even if a hard core ignore new rules, expect fewer children to be exposed to concentrated secondhand smoke.
Smoking in cars - estimated to affect regularly one in five children overall and much higher proportions in poorer and less educated communities - could well become sufficiently frowned upon that it becomes rare.
The worthwhile aim is not to punish smokers but help protect children.