Thursday, 26 May 2011

Nowhere left to hide?

The New England Journal of Medicine has published a comment piece about the future of tobacco control in the light of New York's outdoor smoking ban. I haven't written about the New York ban because, really, what is there to say? According to the BBC:

Smoking will be allowed on pavements outside parks, and car parks in public parks. One area the ban does not cover is "median strips" - known as the central reservation in the UK - the sliver of land in the middle of a large road.

It is possible, dear reader, that you consider this to be a reasonable and proportion piece of legislation. You may believe that allowing people to smoke in the middle of the road—but not on the road, and certainly not on the pavement—is a fair compromise which neatly balances the rights of nonsmokers with smokers.

But if you believe that, I doubt there is anything I can say that would bring you to your senses. There isn't anything to say about the health grounds for the ban, because they're aren't any. There's nothing to say about the scientific basis for the ban because none has been offered. It's a simple case of 'might is right'. Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire bully who should move to Bhutan and I feel sorry for New Yorkers, but it's not as if he's done it all himself. Take this guy, for example:

“I think in the future,” the city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, said at a public hearing, “we will look back on this time and say 'How could we have ever tolerated smoking in a park?'”

If that sentence doesn't make you shudder then, again, you're reading the wrong blog. Imagine a society in which smoking is not only banned in parks but in which people find it unbelievable that such a thing could have ever taken place. How many years of illiberalism, molly-coddling, fear-mongering and 're-education' would have to pass before people's minds became that narrow? If ever there was an argument for lighting up, drinking up and checking out early, Thomas Farley's vision of the future is it.

So what does the NEJM article have to say about all this? Well, actually it's pretty reasonable. It reminds us that smoking bans pre-dated the secondhand smoke studies and that, therefore, bans have never been purely about health. It suggests that one of the justifications for the NY ban—that smoking outdoors is the main source of litter—is based on a highly dubious measure which counts the number of individual items rather than overall volume. It accepts that outdoor smoking bans are primarily part of the denormalisation campaign and are ethically questionable. And it says, as this blog frequently says, that what we are witnessing is creeping prohibition.

Most health professionals agree that an outright prohibition on the sale of cigarettes would be unfeasible and would lead to unwanted consequences such as black markets and the crime that accompanies them.

Yet steadily winnowing the spaces in which smoking is legally allowed may be leading to a kind of de facto prohibition. Smoking bans imposed by states and municipalities have been accompanied by comparable measures in the private sector. Some employers and property owners prohibit smokers from congregating in building doorways; colleges and universities have banned smoking on their campuses; condominiums, apartments, and other multi-unit dwellings have passed requirements for smoke-free apartments. As the historian Allan Brandt has noted, smokers may soon have nowhere left to hide. Pressed by a city council member about where he believed people should be allowed to smoke in New York City, Farley responded, “I’m not prepared to answer that.”

Go read.

On a similar note, the Free Society and Privacy International are hosting a debate about smoking and civil liberties at the Institute of Economic Affairs next Wednesday. Details here.


Mark Wadsworth said...

That litter thing is a red herring.

Sure, cigarette butts are litter and have to be picked up, but streets have to be swept anyway, and the incremental extra cost of sweeping up the butts is about 0.1% of total tobacco duty receipts.

Anonymous said...

If they didn't ban ashtrays then there would be no litter "problem" to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I have just left a comment with the New England Journal. It is surprising to see comments there from doctors which ignore the paucity of evidence for SHS harm in any circumstances, never mind outdoors.
The average age at death in England and Wales is about 80. But it is interesting to note the facts regarding Ischaemic Heart Failure. The death figures for that condition (the condition with the most deaths) are very heavily weighted towards extreme old age, so much so that, based upon a calculation of 'life years' for that group, the average age at death was 85!

Why is it that we never see these sort of figures? Do MPs and Ministers ever see them? 60% or more of these people will have been smokers and almost all will have been exposed to large quantities of SHS.

But it is nice to see a Health Journal asking pertinent questions for a change.

Anonymous said...

Banning smoking is not about you not being able to have your little cigarette. It's about us, who have to endure your smoke wherever you see fit to stench up the air.

Do you understand those of us who dislike your smoke aren't worried about cancer, we don't like being assaulted by the IMMEDIATE effects of smoke, which is completely obnoxious. Yes, it's akin to be assaulted.

While, I do not want to take away your right to smoke, not at all, you can not in the same way demand your right to force smoke into our sinuses, eyes, clothes and upholstery, just because you're a selfish dick.

Anonymous said...

Banning smoking is not about you not being able to have your little cigarette. It's about us, who have to endure your smoke wherever you see fit to stench up the air.

Do you understand those of us who dislike your smoke aren't worried about cancer, we don't like being assaulted by the IMMEDIATE effects of smoke, which is completely obnoxious. Yes, it's akin to be assaulted.

While, I do not want to take away your right to smoke, not at all, you can not in the same way demand your right to force smoke into our sinuses, eyes, clothes and upholstery, just because you're a selfish dick.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Hitler,

Leaving aside some of your highly emotive language, why is it that people like you are unable to grasp the concept of "places for you and places for me"? In other words, freedom of choice for all can quite sensibly be established with a little thought followed by practical policies.

You present your case in all or nothing terms. This is misleading - or, maybe, you are so well brain washed that you cannot manage to think in any other way, so you demand the whole world revolves around you despite the fact YOU don't go everywhere!

Oh dear, so now who's a selfish dick?

Hans Gluck

Christopher Snowdon said...

So smoking bans don't restrict people's right to smoke? I've obviously grievously misinterpreted those 'no smoking' signs. Thanks to anon I now realise that there's nothing draconian about them at all.

Seriously, if you think being in the same park as someone who is smoking is akin to assault, you are either a fantasist, a neurotic or - how can I put this? - a total pussy.

Anonymous said...

Its comming apart at the seams for Tobacco control,their agenda is PROHIBITION,not health! The outcry over bloombergs ban is the defining moment in this round of tobaccos prohibitional history!

This time the zealots know theyve pushed it to far and the indoor bans are now in PERIL.

Jean Granville said...

No relation with this post, but I've stumbled upon this piece of insanity:
I felt I had to post it somewhere.
"“Within five years, one out of two young people who use [snus] will have mouth cancer,” Bolcer said."

Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous 22.35. It is good to hear from an honest anti-smoker who admits his objection is nothing to do with health; but by doing that he puts smoking on a par with smelly take-away food or loud music, or any other of the many annoyances some find annoying and have to deal with. Some, such as people eating take-aways on trains, we have to put up with or try and find a different seat. For others such as loud music in pubs, the free market guarantees a solution, with music free pubs. If anonymous doesn't believe passive smoking is a health risk, he shouldn't object to smoking rooms or smoking pubs.
Jonathan Bagley

Pat Nurse MA said...

The cowardly "anonymous" anti smoker has revealed for all right minded people to see that this sort of person is nothing less than a sociopath.

My only concern here is why Govts give these nutters backing. I don't think it will be long now before Govts realise they have backed the physcos, normality will resume, and people such as "Anonymous" will be held to account for their hate crimes.

IL Libertarian Dude said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IL Libertarian Dude said...

Holy crap, Farley's shameful silence when a NYC city council member pressed him on where smokers should be allowed to smoke speaks of unbelievable volumes as to how extreme and insincere anti-smokers are. First off years ago they wanted non-smoking sections in airlines, workplaces, and restaurants(70s), then they always slowly incrementally increased their demands each decade, to the point where they are so arrogant that antis who harp about the absurd 'benefits of smoking bans' no longer hide that it is about 'de-normalizing smoking', even to the point that normal adults pathetically can't gather together in businesses catering to the smoking minority. Let's not forget that the ex-NYC health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, made similar unbelievably ludicrous remarks along the lines of "we'll one day wonder why we ever allowed smoking inside bars and restaurants", just before the current city indoor smoking ban took effect in early 2003.

If antis(in NYC, anyway) go as far as banning smoking in every single outdoor inch of a park, pedestrian plaza, or beach, there's no question that tomorrow(regardless if it's 18 months, or 9 years away), the next target will be banning smoking both inside and outside of as many personal residences as possible(short of only standalone homes). Mark my words, and if you don't believe me, remember that 100% residential smoking bans only excluding standalone homes already are the law in at least Sebastopol, Belmont, and Calabasas, and wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more California communities I missed. Not to forget since 4 1/2 years ago, Dublin, CA already legally classifies SHS inside a privately owned home as a 'legal nuisance', allowing residents to sue another for laughable 'harm' from SHS exposure.

It's way past darn time for people to stop being so fregging apathetic about ever increasing indoor and outdoor smoking restrictions, being sheeple and unnecessary obeying them, and for more private property owners and individuals to publicly challenge smoking bans, all the way up to even the level of a high ranking state or federal court. If completely non-smoking businesses(inside and out) can exist for those who seek out such businesses, even when no comprehensive smoking ban on the local or state level mandates that business have a complete no-smoking policy(but adopts such a rule anyway), what's the point at all about smoking bans, other than selfish control over an activity they despise, but have no fundamental right to stop in places they won't patronize regardless if smoking is banned or not?

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that people should disobey smoking bans in places where the property owner sincerely declares his business to be smoke-free(i.e. chains that want to be no-smoking inside and/or outside, inside an independently-owned business that sincerely wants to be no-smoking inside and/or outside, etc.), in fact I do not condone people disobeying bans in places where a property owner sincerely wants to impose a no-smoking rule(even if it applies to every inch of say, an outdoor bar patio). I just believe that people and property owners should continue the trend of encouraging more adult-oriented businesses to be 'smokeeasies', in places where smoking bans have overstepped the point of prohibiting smoking even in age-restricted businesses, where such businesses should ALWAYS have the right to decide their own smoking rules.

Anonymous said...

You are perfectly correct, Mr Dude. The problem is that the owners of such premises did not fight against the deprivation of their freedom in England when the ban was first proposed. Remember that there was a time lapse between the Bill and the Act. But the Bill was substantially different from the eventual Act because the Gov changed the Bill at the last moment. However, there was still a time lapse between the Act and the enforcement thereof. But the publicans, café owners, etc did nothing.

PETS (People who Enjoy Tobacco) owe nothing to publicans and such. It is up to these people to rebel, not us. Politicians will only respond if there is something in it for them - that is their nature. Despite what they might say about principles, the reality is that politics, by its nature, MUST be about compromise. The reason is that every politician has his own individual ideas, and so not everyone's ideas can be accommodated. Compromise.

The only people who can stop this compromise idea are the publicans etc. It is up to them to get together.