On Jan. 1, 2009 the state took away our right to smoke cigarettes in a bar. Four months later the House of Representatives passed a bill to make littering cigarette butts a Class B Misdemeanor. Now moves are being made to ban smoking in public parks and college campuses.
Smoking cigarettes, as it stands right now, is legal. No one will deny that smoking is bad for anyone who engages in it on a regular basis, but the freedom to do so exists nonetheless. This freedom, however, is being constantly infringed upon by the state. They may not be outlawing smoking, but they are limiting the locations in which smoking is legal. This is an affront to the rights of smokers—people whose rights are often not recognized, I suspect, for the fact that what they are doing is harmful to their bodies.
Some may be asking, “But what about the rights of those who don’t smoke to not have to breathe in your secondhand smoke?” I would say to these individuals that public air, shockingly, is public and not quite as clean and particle-free as one might think. It seems to me that many simply just do not like the smell of tobacco smoke. There are many things of which I do not like the smell, like perfumes, colognes, certain foods or body odor, but I tolerate them because that’s just life. Something that insignificantly inconveniences me is not worth making a fuss over.
The odors previously mentioned, however, are not hazardous for me to inhale, whereas tobacco smoke is. The fact is that the air we breathe downtown or in any city in general, is full of hazardous materials. Long-term exposure to auto emissions can cause respiratory problems, as can the particles shed by a car’s brakes. Even the buildings downtown spout emissions from their heating vents. Aren’t the people driving downtown choosing to do so even though it is harmful to others and the planet as a whole?
There also seems to be a consensus, among some, that inhaling a few wisps of secondhand smoke while walking around campus is going to give them lung cancer tomorrow. Of course secondhand smoke is harmful, but what many people fail to realize is that the length and consistency of exposure is a critical component.
The literature on the American Lung Association’s Web site on secondhand smoke is clear on the health hazard it can present, but not so specific on the levels of exposure required. Even a smoker, who is inhaling the smoke directly, must do so often and over an extended period of time—usually years—to develop significant respiratory problems. The same goes for secondhand smoke. I have often found myself on public transportation, forced to be near someone who has seemingly just bathed in perfume, and found it somewhat difficult to endure or breathe deeply. It is an inconvenience and not much more, and certainly not long lasting.
No one denies that tobacco smoke is harmful, but the effects of intermittent exposure to small amounts of secondhand smoke, such as in a wide-open space like a public park, are often just an inconvenience and sometimes exaggerated.
I like to consider myself a conscientious smoker. I try to keep downwind of those who I believe may be bothered by my smoke, but there is a limit as to how much I can control the direction of my smoke, and there are those who are wholly intolerant of it.
Smoking bans on campuses and in public parks may seem like small changes at first, but they open the door to even more bans and sanctions on smoking. These bans effectively stifle the freedoms of smokers, who deserve their freedom like any other.
The freedom to smoke, as much as it may be harmful, is a freedom nonetheless. So is the freedom to drive a car, turn on the heat or even eat a cheeseburger. Smokers make an easy scapegoat because of those smokers who are not aware of those around them. The mother who smokes in her car with the windows rolled up while her child sits strapped in the back seat—a smoker doing real damage to another—is not going to be affected or deterred by a smoking ban in parks or at universities.
One wonders where the bans on smoking will end and how much they will invade one’s personal freedom to smoke at home or in the car. How long will it be until one of your favorite, yet unhealthy, activities comes under scrutiny? Smoking may not be a freedom you agree with, but that does not make it any less legitimate.
By Will Blackford, October 5, 2009 Dailyvanguard