According to anti-tobacco advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health, parents in Maryland and across the United States could lose custody of their children if they smoke cigarettes. Experts say that getting full or even joint child custody could become significantly more difficult for smokers, while critics argue the issue is an unfair intrusion on parents’ rights.

Smoking has become an issue in several recent custody cases, including one in which it was ruled that a mother who smoked near her child, who had asthma, failed to show significant concern for the well-being of her child. In another case, a judge told a woman that she had to stop smoking cigarettes in her car or home if she wished to avoid losing her visitation rights with her son, who lived with his father.

According to data collected by the group, at least 18 states currently have laws stating that a parent’s smoking habit should be considered when determining child custody, and no judges have ever decided that subjecting a child to tobacco should be disregarded. Thousands of child custody cases have seen orders that prohibit smoking near children, with some parents completely losing custody or having it severely reduced for failing to comply. In some cases, courts even consider the smoking habit of a non-parent who comes into frequent contact with a child, such as family friends, grandparents or step-parents.

While some critics argue that restricting child custody based on smoking unjustly limits the lives of private citizens, a number of courts have ruled in favor of such measures. For instance, a visiting judge to one state’s supreme court wrote that family court’s that don’t consider smoking in custody decisions is not acting in a child’s best interest.

Source: Washington Times Communities, “Smokers losing child custody cases a growing trend,” Myra Fleischer, Feb. 21, 2012