Almost all the Tories so fervently against smoking in cars are simultaneously pretty sanguine about foodbanks. Six weeks ago nearly 300 MPs voted against a motion calling on the government to reduce dependency on emergency food aid. It is difficult to observe, without the option of yelling and swearing, how disingenuous this is, how slimy and mawkish for a government happy to live with the idea of people living in squalor, in fuel poverty, going hungry, suddenly to find itself unable to bear the idea of a child in a smoky car.Williams gets flak from readers about this. It's clearly aimed at all benefiting all kids, not just poor ones and the poor shouldn't be spending their money on cars anyway (or tobacco). But here and elsewhere she points out that Westminster MPs are highly selective in their view of what damages children's prospects and interests.
In perspective: secondhand smoke is implicated in one in five cases of sudden infant death. Since smoke is more intense in a small, enclosed space, it is logical to assume that babies are more endangered by smoking in cars than by smoking elsewhere.
However, the smoking figures are almost always in constellation with other factors – factors surrounding or inherent to the child, from poor housing to low birth weight. Birth weight is of course related to smoking in pregnancy, but again other factors, such as maternal education, age and class, have an impact. A study in Ohio found mould spores in the lungs of sudden infant death victims; and midwives regularly say that mould is dangerous. Kia Stone, a young mother profiled in the Guardian's Breadline Britain series 18 months ago, lost her daughter shortly afterwards. A large mushroom was still growing out of the damp plaster in the bedroom when she got home from the autopsy.
Nobody even collects figures for mould as a risk factor – separate from damp and leaks. Bedrooms that are too hot are also a factor, as is frequent house moving, and living in overcrowded conditions, B&Bs or hostel accommodation. The connection isn't made – presumably through sheer lack of interest – that buildings in which people can't control the heating are often too hot or too cold.Never take your ability to adjust the central heating for granted! This points to an area of public health (cot death) in which there is no interest in pursuing certain lines of research. When I grew up in the 1970s we were taught that bad housing contributed to poor health, but now the agenda is all about blaming the impoverished for bad choices.
More crudely, is it sensible to assume that what Westminster votes for is aimed to benefit anyone's health? (this question refers not to the general UK population but to its rulers).