Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Keep your hands off my friends' cigarettes

I see that New York busybody-in-chief, er, mayor, Michael Bloomberg, as is his wont, is hot on extending a smoking ban again, this time to publicly owned outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches. The logic being, of course, that everyone in a public place has a right to clean air. Guess what? If that's the case, then, as William Saletan points out in this article, we ought to ban smoking on private property as well, not to mention lighting the grill and driving cars.

I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about Bloomberg's 2002 ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, but at least in that case a sound argument could be made in favor on the grounds of public health. This is different. There is no evidence that secondhand smoke in outdoor places causes harm to other people, and even if there was, there are numerous ways to deal with the problem short of intrusive government restriction of private behavior. I hate smoking. I think it's a vile habit, I can't stand the stink of burnt tobacco, I feel an immediate and overpowering need to shower after I return home from spending time in a smoke-filled place, cigarette butts are my least favorite form of litter, I consider ashtrays fouler than toilets, and a smoking habit is one of the few things that's always been an unnegotiable and immediate deal-breaker for me with the opposite sex. And yet, people smoking on the beach or at the park has never bothered me. Truthfully, I can't even recall an incidence of it happening, but if there was one, I probably just moved to a different spot elsewhere in the park or a bit further down the beach, the same way I'd respond if I came across someone in one of those places who was talking too loudly or playing music I didn't like.

In my ideal world nobody would smoke tobacco, but I find the idea of the government attempting to enact that ideal by passing laws restricting the rights of my fellow citizens odious, no matter how widely shared by the populace or scientifically justifiable anti-smoking attitudes may be. That's doubly true when smokers are not bothering anyone else by pursuing their habit, which as far as my experience goes is the case here. Saletan quotes a NYC official who claims that smoking on the beach or at the park has "no redeeming value". Why doesn't he let the good people of New York, many of whom smoke, make that determination for themselves?

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