A Sydney mother is calling on the NSW Government to ban smoking around children, labelling it a form of "child abuse".
31-year-old Nina Belle, was recently left horrified and angry after witnessing three adults smoking outside a shopping centre, around a toddler they were caring for.
"The smoking was blowing into the child's face, and the adults had no regard for their actions," Ms Belle says, adding that as the mother of a two-year-old her "maternal instincts" kicked in.
"I felt appalled that the poor child had to sit there and be exposed to these chemicals," says Ms Belle. "I was driving in my car at the time, so I was unable to give them a piece of my mind." Instead, she says, she gave them a "death stare" to express her disgust.
But the death stare wasn't enough for the furious mother. Still on her mind over a week later, the incident prompted her to take action - and push for a change in the law. "I've decided I can't just sit back and say nothing," Ms Belle says.
As well as penning a scathing open letter addressed to "those smokers", which she published on her blog:Judgy Mummy, the mum has launched a change.org petition, calling on the NSW government to ban smoking around children - and to fine those caught doing so.
"There were three of you smoking right next to a toddler in a pram," Ms Belle writes, "and the smoke was blowing in the poor child's face. That poor child was breathing in at least 250 toxic chemicals, including 50 of which that are known to cause cancer."
Acknowledging that choosing to smoke and "harm your own health" is their decision, Ms Belle notes that exposing a child to secondhand smoke is another issue entirely. "You may or may not know, that children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma, croup, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, meningococcal disease, pneumonia and middle ear infections," the mother-of-one writes. "It also causes impaired learning, slower growth and behavioural changes."
In fact, Ms Belle believes that children have a right to breathe clean air, and that exposing babies and children to passive smoke is a form of "child abuse". "The government needs to intervene and protect our little ones who can't speak up for themselves," she says. "We intervene when children are neglected due to alcohol or drug addictions, and should intervene when children are exposed to passive smoke."
Ms Belle notes that while progress has been made by banning adults smoking in cars with children, near play equipment, in outdoor dining areas and near pedestrian entries and exits from hospitality venues, it's simply not enough. "The next logical step is to completely ban children being exposed to passive smoking," she says.
Parents who smoke around their kids should be supported to kick the habit - and should be kept accountable, Ms Belle says. This includes removing children from their parents' care if it's adversely affecting their health. "In instances where children are suffering severe health effects from their parents' smoking, including ongoing lung infections and hospitalisations, the government should take measures to provide a safer living environment for these children," she continues.
The mum is now urging members of the community to get behind her petition and to spread the word using the hashtag, #speakupforourkids.
"If you care about the health of our children, take ten seconds out of your busy schedule to sign my petition," she says.
"Every child has a right to grow up in a healthy and smoke-free environment."
According to the US Centres for Disease Control, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. It can cause numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Image/ US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
You can sign Ms Belle's petition here: