Is smoking in public places freedom of choice?

JEDDAH: Whether smoking in public places is a freedom of choice or not is a subject of continuous debate. The large number of smoking-publicsmokers in public places contributes to the rising number of passive or secondhand smokers.

Secondhand smoke is classified as a known human carcinogen, a substance capable of causing cancer.

In the past, smokers in Saudi Arabia did not respect the laws on smoking in government buildings, airports and hospitals. With the increasing number of smokers in the Kingdom, especially among youth, the government started to tighten the rules against smokers.

Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation and chairman of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), banned smoking in airports across the Kingdom from the end of last year. GACA launched an awareness campaign to fight smoking in cooperation with travel agencies and government offices. The sale of cigarettes is forbidden in the areas around the two holy mosques.

Nonsmokers interviewed by Arab News called for authorities to fine people who smoke in public places, similar to the smoking fines implemented at airports. Nonsmokers believe that smoking in public places is not a freedom of choice, because it harms others directly. Some believe that smoking in a public place is a selfish act and deprives others from enjoying their stay outdoors. Others believe that smoking in public places influences children negatively.

Arab News interviewed over 80 people in shopping malls, near schools, and at the airport to hear their opinion about smoking in public places. All but two said they believe smoking in public places should be banned and is not a freedom of choice.

Omar Kamel, interviewed in Sairafi Mall in Jeddah, said that smoking is not a freedom of choice. “They have the right to kill themselves, but not others,” said Kamel. He added: “Smoking in public places is not a freedom of choice, because there are people who are negatively affected by it. I hope to see one day that smoking is truly prohibited on the streets.”

Saeed Faraj, a father of four, interviewed at a shopping center, said that smoking near children should be considered a crime. “I am a smoker but I do not smoke in a public place and I avoid smoking in front of my children, because I do not want them to pick up my bad habit.” He said that people should discourage smokers from smoking in a public place.

Muna Fahd, interviewed at the airport in Jeddah, said that people smoking in public should be punished. “I do not believe it is right that I have to leave the park or the mall, or move from where I sit, just because someone is smoking next to me. He should be the one to move, because smoking harms others. Therefore, he should isolate himself to smoke far away from people,” said Muna.

Akram Mustafa is a smoker who was seen smoking inside Red Sea Mall. He told Arab News that smoking was a freedom of choice and always should be. “I do not know why people are making a big deal out of it. If they do not like the smell, then they should move. It is always a question of who comes first. If I sit in a place and start smoking, then whoever comes later has no right to ask me to put out my cigarette. The opposite, of course, applies as well.”

Ahmad Fuad, an ex-smoker, said that he realized how badly he was harming others when his children coughed because someone smoked next to them. “As an ex-smoker, I can say that smoking is really bad and it should be banned in public places. What is needed is an awareness program on secondhand smoke, because many people are not mindful of that. Nonsmokers think that they are safe if they do not smoke, and that they will not get affected by a man who smokes next to them,” Fuad said.

Lujain Saleh, a mother of four, said the problem is that nonsmokers allow smokers to smoke next to them. “They should stand up for themselves and demand that the smokers extinguish their cigarettes. The problem is that many people are shy to tell smokers not to smoke, thinking that they are interfering with their freedom. Smokers in public places have no freedom to do so and, in fact, are violating the freedom of nonsmokers to enjoy the place without the bad cigarette smell. Actually, smokers should worry more about the health of others, but most of them — if not all — are selfish and do not care about their health and the health of others,” said Lujain.

Dr. Hussein Abdul Samiea, a chest specialist, confirmed that secondhand smoking is more harmful than firsthand smoking. It is preferable for nonsmokers to stay away from smoking areas.

“Secondhand smoke is one of the most important causes of serious diseases such as cancer, heart and lung diseases. Nonsmokers are affected more negatively from smoking than smokers. A smoker inhales only 15 percent of the cigarette smoke, while 85 percent of the smoke is puffed in the air and this threatens nonsmokers’ lives,” said Dr. Abdul Samiea.

The website of the Saudi Tobacco Control Program recently published a study by Ohio State University. The study included 52 children aged from two to five years, adolescents from 9 years to 18 years, and 107 students. The study found that passive smoking is particularly harmful to children. The study, in addition, found that the more a child is exposed to smoke, the more weight it will gain.


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