Because public places exist for the benefit of all, I firmly believe that smoking should be banned in them because smoking is a personal choice that directly affects others. This is by no means a violation of anyone’s rights; what it means, in fact, is a protection of everyone’s rights. As the following will reveal, cigarette smoking is an annoyance to non-smokers and a serious risk to their health. Also, as this banning does not deny smokers the right to smoke in private spaces, it is irrational to argue that prohibitions violate the rights of such people. In plain terms, no one has the right to inflict on others a personal choice that is both offensive to many and dangerous to them.
It is difficult to think of anything more personal than the air we breathe, and taking in smoke exhaled from a smoker, along with the fumes of their cigarette, is a direct assault on this critical and personal process. This is true no matter any actual health risks posed by smoking because smoke is plainly not clean air. It is a powerful irritation to the senses, and a highly disagreeable smell and taste. I myself have been in restaurants that still permit smoking, and the effect is so strong that my appetite is affected and I cannot even enjoy the taste of a meal. This is true for many, and that so many restaurants enjoy great success with smoking bans in place clearly supports this. Then, the unpleasant effects occur within any confined space so, when that space is public, non-smokers like myself are actually abused. The abuse also goes beyond states of being offended because the smoke itself is clearly unhealthy.
Opponents of smoking bans like to assert that there is no real evidence of secondhand smoke harming health, but the proof is simply too large to ignore. In study after study, it is confirmed that secondhand smoke is more than an irritation to non-smokers; it is a serious health risk. It is estimated that over 62,000 people die annually from heart disease directly linked to secondhand smoke exposure, as thousands also develop fatal lung cancer from the same cause (Owing 146).
This reality is critical, because it moves the issue from being one of comfort to one of safety, and no individual’s personal choice should be allowed to impact on others dangerously. There is also the important consideration that bans on public smoking have a positive effect on smokers. Since smoking bans began to be set in place in the 1980s and bars, restaurants, stores, and workplaces increasingly did not permit it, smokers have been denied access to the habit and many have been encouraged to quit (Chapman 20).
By way of argument, it is often held that public spaces are often private, commercial properties, and smoking bans represent government intrusion into how a business owner chooses to maintain their site. It is felt that to ban smoking in a commercial space is to violate the rights of the owner, who should be able to offer whatever environment they choose in their place of business (Pampel 70). This view is important because it goes to basic, constitutional rights. Unfortunately, it ignores the greater reality that the government is entitled to act in the interests of the public’s welfare, and this outweighs commercial concerns. Just as the business owner is legally obligated to have exits and fire extinguishers, so too are they obligated to restrict a practice harmful to their customers.
The debate about smoking in public spaces is likely fueled by the fact that, for so many years, smoking was a social norm and even a sign of maturity. Then, there is no discounting the fact that public spaces should accommodate all, no matter their personal preferences. This is valid, certainly. However, when a personal preference goes beyond the personal, as smoking does, the individual waives the right to practice it in a shared space. It is that simple, and this is the real choice the smoker makes. No one is denying them the right to smoke in their homes or in any private arena. However, when they smoke where others gather, they do more than exercise a personal choice; they invade the space and senses of others, as they create health risks for those who have made different choices. These are the basic realities, and they lead me to believe absolutely that bans in smoking in public spaces violate no rights, and instead serve as protections for the well-being of those within the spaces: the public.
- Chapman, S. Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco Control: Making Smoking History. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
- Owing, J. H. Focus on Smoking and Health Research. New York: Nova Publishers, 2005. Print.
- Pampel, F. C. Tobacco Industry and Smoking. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.