Smoking ban: Should it be extended to outdoor public spaces?
The main argument behind the smoking ban is irrefutable: it is to stop non-smokers from passively inhaling the harmful toxins that cigarettes emit.
When lit, the burning end of a cigarette releases some 4,000 chemicals into the atmosphere in the form of an aerosol. Due to the high level of carcinogens in this potent cocktail, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among other bodies, has classified second-hand smoke (SHS) in the same health risk category as asbestos.
In recent weeks, two separate studies have been released that suggest that the indoor smoking ban is having a positive effect on the British public’s health. The first, from the European Respiratory Journal (ERJ), found that 11,000 less children are being admitted to hospital each year with lung related issues, while the second, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), suggests that fewer people over the age of 35 are dying from smoking in the UK than from before the ban.
While the former study has already been hailed by some researchers as evidence that anti-smoking legislation is improving the health of children in the UK, the latter has highlighted the fact that the death rate among adults who smoke is still unacceptably high – 78,200 people aged 35 and over in 2013, according to the Guardian.
Both studies, however, help support the argument that more needs to be done to tackle smoking in Britain, whether it be protecting non-smokers from SHS or supporting those who want to quit.
One viable suggestion, which was discussed by experts in the British Medical Journal in February, is to extend the ban to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, bus stops and beaches.
But while it’s incredibly easy to justify banning smoking in enclosed spaces where a passive smoker’s health is placed directly in harm’s way, an outdoor ban would be much more difficult to implement for two reasons: a lack of hard evidence regarding the dangers of SHS in open spaces and the backlash from the smoking community.
Professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, one of the experts involved in the discussions earlier this year, wrote that a fleeting encounter with a cigarette plume in a wide open space would pose “a near homeopathic level of risk to others” and that the lack of research in this area is possibly due to scientists acknowledging this fact.
Back in 2011, New York extended its 2003 smoking ban, which prohibited people from lighting up in enclosed public spaces, to cover areas like parks and beaches. Although there have been numerous studies to suggest that the original anti-smoking law has helped reduce heart and lung disease in the city, there is little to support the benefits of the outdoor ban, despite it being in place for almost five years.
It is a decision to smoke; a free choice that everyone over the age of 18 in the UK is entitled to make. However, it is also a nonsmoker’s right to be protected from the harmful toxins that SHS contains. In enclosed spaces, this hazard becomes even more dangerous and therefore a law was rightfully put in place to stop it. On the other hand, if cigarette smoke in a wide open space poses no immediate health threat to the public then surely it should not be banned simply because some find the habit unappealing.
Perhaps the real target should not be the smokers themselves, but the huge tobacco companies that still hold tremendous power in the global market and are able to influence policy change at the highest level.