UK Couple Banned from Adopting Because the Husband is a Vaper

By Lindsay Fox Posted February 26, 2015

UK vapers adoption


It looks like bad news for UK vapers hoping to adopt a child – not to mention a grim sign of the intense misunderstanding surrounding e-cigarettes – as a couple was banned from adopting a child because the husband was seen vaping. The decision, made by social workers from the Staffordshire County Council, is based on advice from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) that “users of e-cigarettes be considered smokers” until the completely ill-defined point at which the concerns about e-cigs have been settled. The social worker dealing with the case also added that anybody who’d vaped in the past year wouldn’t be allowed to adopt a child either. Now, a lot of extreme and stupid statements are made about e-cigarettes, but this one really might take the cake.


The Story – No Children for You, Filthy Vaper


The couple didn’t want to reveal their real names, asking to be referred to as Abigail and Brian. They started attempting to adopt in late 2013, after already attempting in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and by September last year they’d pretty much jumped through the necessary hoops. They’d gone through the medical tests and interviews, proving they were good people (i.e. “of sound character”) and that they had enough money to raise a child, but apparently that isn’t enough.


If you’re a smoker, you’re generally not looked upon well when it comes to adoption. In the UK, there is flexibility when it comes to smoking status for those looking to adopt children, but many follow guidelines set out by the BAAF. These don’t say that it should never happen, or that there should be hard-and-fast rules, but the core “recommendation” is that children under 5 shouldn’t be placed with foster parents who smoke, nor should kids with conditions that make them especially sensitive to smoke. It also says that because smokers who’ve recently quit may start smoking again, especially soon after quitting, that smokers should have quit for a year or more to be allowed to adopt a child in these high risk groups.


So when Brian was spotted vaping by a social worker, things got more complicated. He hadn’t smoked a cigarette in months, and says he was “using e-cigarettes as a cessation aid, to ease the nicotine cravings.” He’s hardly a cloud chaser, in other words. The social worker dutifully spouted the BAAF smoking recommendations, but admitted that she wasn’t sure about vaping. She went and checked it out, and found that the BAAF had recommended that “users of e-cigarettes be considered smokers” until concerns about them had been cleared up.


Given the smoking recommendations, she also added that anybody who’d vaped in the past 12 months wouldn’t be allowed to adopt a child. The same goes for at least 13 other councils in the UK. I wish I could imagine that this would finally be peak stupid in the e-cigarette debate.


Professor Robert West summed it up pretty well, calling it a badly thought out policy that will cause “significant harm.” He added, “There are so many misconceptions about e-cigarettes that policy makers and the public are getting very confused.”


The BAAF Updates Their Guidance on Vaping


Vaping adoption rules

The story received very favorable news coverage (better than usual for e-cigarettes, at least), largely because it centers on a potential family, fully capable of raising a child (since there are no tests to take before getting pregnant, probably more capable than many first-time parents), being denied the opportunity for something so incredibly trivial. Consequently, a child in need is being denied a loving, stable family just because Brian is using an e-cig to help him quit smoking.


News reports quoted Public Health England, who’d recently said that “The health risks of passive exposure to electronic cigarette vapor are… likely to be extremely low.”


This is something that hardly needs confirming. Public Health England also said the hazards are likely to be “extremely low” for first-hand vapers, so it’s a little premature to starting harping on about potential second-hand harm.


The BAAF, to their credit, have now planned to update their guidance on e-cigarettes:


“We will be recommending that agencies now consider e-cigarettes as different to tobacco cigarettes. Agencies should therefore recognize the low risk to children and not see the use of e-cigarettes as a reason to preclude foster carers or adopters purely on this basis. Each circumstance should be risk assessed on an individual basis.”


This is obviously in response to the story, but it’s a fairly reasonable statement, and they acknowledge the positive benefits of e-cigarettes. They do say, however, that this positivity “needs to be balanced against the risk of providing a model for the child of smoking now, or in the future.”


This and one of their smoking-related recommendations seems to indicate that they value setting a positive example for children. How they don’t see using an e-cigarette (a tool most people use to help them quit smoking) as a positive example is beyond me – it’s literally sending the message that smoking is harmful and it’s better to not do it.


It’s Still Not Definite, But Couples Who Vape Should be Able to Adopt


So the updated recommendations should mean that couples like Brian and Abigail should be able to adopt in the UK in the future, and it’s good to see a group like BAAF changing their minds and trying to follow the science, but this episode is still a thoroughly depressing sign of the times.


E-cigarettes are vastly, undeniably safer than smoking, but with a persistent stream of misinformation, credulous news reporting and every single hypothetical risk associated with e-cigarettes being sensationalized, people really are getting confused. If more politicians and groups don’t follow BAAF’s example and start basing their decisions on evidence over hyperbole, then vaping as we know it will be crushed under our own collective stupidity. Even if they aren’t totally demolished by misguided regulations, vapers will join smokers as social lepers.