The Hawaii Smoking Ban We Need To Seriously Consider

14:03Ciaran McCormick

From the 1st January 2014, smokers in Hawaii will have to skip their habit in a lot more places. The Mayor of Honolulu passed a law in the US state restricting smoking in many public places. It includes bus stops and entertainment sites like beaches, parks, pools and playgrounds.

Flickr/Fried Dough
It reflects a growing number of places that regulate outdoor smoking. A big list of countries stop people lighting up in enclosed public areas. This year New South Wales, a state in Australia, has piloted a similar scheme to the plans in Hawaii. On the spot fines deter potential lawbreakers. In the UK, we have stepped back from this public health issue since the indoor smoking ban came into force in 2007. I want us to continue the debate. An outdoor smoking ban would tread on the toes of a lot of people. However, I am willing to argue the health and social justifications for a stricter policy.

Being trapped in a public place where people are smoking is an unpleasant experience. The smell makes me feel physically sick and inflames medical conditions such as asthma. There is scientific evidence that second hand smoke can still damage health outdoors, though these studies offer a mixed picture. Litter is a further problem. Cigarette butts are a stain on our streets that is rarely questioned. These reasons shape my attitudes towards how we should treat smoking.

What sorts of regulations do I believe we need to consider? I believe a fundamental principle should underlie our handling of the issue. Smoking should not be allowed around non-consenting non-smokers. This includes public spaces where people congregate. Examples include high streets, beaches, bus stops, the exteriors of cafes and beyond. This would mean that people are not unwillingly exposed to the health risks of second-hand smoking and its unpleasant aesthetic effects.

I can anticipate the fury that this argument will elicit from those that choose to smoke. They react to restrictions by claiming that they are independent adults who can choose what drugs they wish to consume. I acknowledge with a libertarian nod their ownership of their own bodies. However, I believe society has a duty to step in when someone's right to smoke interferes with someone's right not to have to breathe it in, smell it and see its remnants on their streets. I never want to be subjected to these unpleasant side-effects. We regulate other substances based on the same principle. Alcohol is the main example since it affects a similar number of people. We allow people the right to drink as long as it does not adversely affect the lives of other people. At the lowest level, this can include the offence of being drunk and disorderly. The extreme is the banning of driving under the influence of alcohol. Whilst the fallout of alcohol can be even worse than smoking, activities such as the mental and physical abuse of others is still a crime. Intoxication is not an excuse. My focus is on the negative effects of the legal smoking of tobacco. Similarly, I want people to have the right to enjoy their particular poison as long as it does not infringe the lives of other people.

In practice, applying this principle would be difficult. I envisage smoking areas in public spaces where only people that consent to being subject to the effects of cigarette smoke would be able to go. This differs from smoking gardens in restaurants, pubs and clubs. These are social spaces that have been overwhelmed by the overspill of people prevented from smoking inside. If you want to stay with your friends and belong to a group which includes smokers, then there is peer pressure to go into these gardens. It is not a pure form of consent. Designated spaces do not entirely escape this problem of peer pressure. However, they do allow non-smokers to exercise a greater degree of control over their right not to be subject to cigarette smoke.

This policy would also touch upon the private domain. Many outdoor smoking bans, like the one in Hawaii, overlook this area. The principle of consent to smoking is a thorny issue in people's homes. If you visit someone else's home and do not want to be exposed to their cigarette smoke, do you have such a right? It would involve a certain level of overreach by the state into people's private lives. However, my principle does seem to suggest that people should have the consent of those around them when they light up. It also needs to take into account whether that consent is genuine or leveraged by the peer pressure of the social situation. In one particular area, I would like to be firm. Children do not have the ability to offer full consent. They need to be fully developed and experienced in society before they make such important decisions as to whether to smoke. People should not be allowed to smoke around children. They should not be subjected to the health risk and the unpleasant side-effects of proximity to a smoker.

Smokers will complain that a policy as strict as this risks demonising them. On the other hand, I do not think this is a bad thing. My stridently anti-smoking views are clear in this post. This is not some gospel truth I am trying to preach. Instead, it is an unrefined snapshot of the direction I want us to debate. We are gradually fighting the image of smoking as it has been traditionally branded. I am sickened by the glorification of cigarettes as cool. The rise of e-cigarettes is a worrying trend. It threatens to undermine the work done to dismantle the acceptability of smoking. The chemical exposure from the devices has not fully been explored by scientists. Moreover, the flavours available, from cotton candy to coffee, trivialise the smoking experience. Therefore, the banning of non-consensual second hand smoke should be a part of the health campaign to reduce smoking. This works well in conjunction with health warnings on packs, increased tax duties and blank packaging. However, it respects people's rights to both experience and avoid smoking.

Hawaii are being swept along on the tide of progress. In 2014, their public spaces will be more pleasant for everyone that uses them. I want us to re-open the debate on this issue. The health risks of outdoor second-hand smoke have not been fully proven. I do not want to take that risk. Besides, I can be certain of the effects of the smell and the litter on me. My principle is simple. The practical application would be extremely difficult and create a lot of tensions. However, I fundamentally support the view that if you do not consent to cigarette exposure, people cannot use their freedom to smoke and override your wishes. What is your view on smoking bans? Let me know how you feel in the comments.

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