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UP IN SMOKE
Should smoking be banned in public places?
Member Name: Mauri
Should smoking be banned in public places?
Date: 09/03/06, updated on 07/11/06 (3653 review reads)
Advantages: Will lead to less people smoking, will protect worker
Disadvantages: Loss of freedom of choice
This issue has become rather emotive in recent times and I think the many different strands of the argument have become confused.
First of all let me say that I come to the debate as an occasional smoker in the past with a background in medical science. I also like to think of myself as a libertarian.
In a free society people’s freedoms have to be protected, people should have a right to choose to do what they want even if this is to some extent dangerous to their own health. I’m not just talking about smoking specifically but other ‘dangerous’ activities like mountaineering, paragliding or horse riding (statistically is the most dangerous participation sport accounting for many deaths every year). The point is that just because some activity is or could be detrimental to a person’s health I don’t think society has a justification for banning it. However there is a moral justification on society or the state to educate people and give people the information needed to make an informed choice, thus health warnings and health campaigns are perfectly justified.
“I FIND SMOKING ANNOYING AND DISGUSTING”
The problems with the freedoms of an individual in society arise when those personal freedoms transgress the freedom of other and this is where the issue of smoking in public places should be approached. Is the right of an individual to smoke important enough to allow that activity to affect other people in an adverse way? Well the easy answer would be no but we have to look closer at what we mean by adverse…are we talking about health or simply annoyance?
I have heard some people argue that smoking should be banned in public and work places because they dislike the smell, this is fair point but a dislike for something is not a good enough reason to ban it as long as people have a choice to avoid that activity. A smoking ban for the annoyance it causes to some is justified in a public building like a library, town hall where the purpose of the building is to be as inclusive as possible and where there is no alternative.
All other public spaces including work places cannot justify banning smoking on the basis of the annoyance factor unless there is a majority decision amongst staff or employers to do this, the same applies to pubs and restaurants. After all I might find loud jukeboxes in pubs annoying but I do not expect all pubs to ban loud music I simply choose a pub that caters for my needs.
So if smoking can’t be justifiably be banned because it is an annoyance to some, can there be any other justification to ban it from public places. Well of course the most obvious is that of passive smoking, the idea that breathing I other peoples smoke at high enough concentrations does negatively affect a person’s health.
It is true to say that there is quite a bit of mounting evidence to suggest that passive smoking is a real danger. I think that some of the findings have been exaggerated by some to back up their wish to ban smoking but on balance, although not totally proven in my view there is enough evidence to suggest that passive smoking should be taken seriously.
A justification for allowing smoking in some places could be made in the same way that it is made for the annoyance factor of smoking, simply that where a choice is available in the cases of pubs for instance, then the risks of passive smoking can justified. Whether you choose to smoke (or to passively smoke) is up to you, so if you know that a pub allows smoking then you know that you will be affected by passive smoking and since going to the pub is not an imperative and since there are non smoking pubs around it is your choice whether you go to a smoking pub or not. However there is a big problem with this argument when it comes to employees!
Employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees from danger at work. They have to take reasonable steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This is a good and sound law since it forces employer to provide safety equipment for worker operating dangerous machinery for instance. Where the nature of the work is intrinsically dangerous then all practical steps have to be taken to lower the dangers BUT the law recognises that some activities will never be made totally safe without the costs being so great that the activity becomes impractical, a balance has always to be sought.
The argument is that pub and restaurant workers for instance should be protected from the dangers of passive smoking and banning smoking in the premises is a reasonable step to take since while it might infringe on the rights of some customers smoking is not seen as an essential or desirable activity and the health of the worker is more important.
Now I have seen the argument put about that you could advertise for people to work who are willing to take the risk of passive smoking or who are smokers themselves taking such jobs is their choice so what’s the problem. Well there is a problem in the principle that is being followed. Effectively by saying this you are allowing workers to opt out of safety legislation if they wish to, this is illegal for good reason. Imagine another scenario… a factory owner involved in a dangerous process knows that to make the process acceptably safe for the workers it would cost him a large amount of money that would cut into his profits therefore he says I will only take on workers who are willing to take on the risk of working without safety gear. The choice is theirs…some may choose not to work there but other who are desperate for a job might have to take the risk thus they do not have a real choice. In principle the same argument could be made for pub and restaurant workers.
As far as banning smoking in open public spaces I think this would be a step too far and I have no sympathy with people who object to cigarette smoke from passers by in the street and who would like to see smoking banned outright because of this. The dangers of passive smoking form smoke in the open air is negligible and just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it should be banned, there’s plenty of perfumes and aftershaves that I find personally offensive when I pass someone in a crowed road but I would never suggest that all aftershaves be banned! In the end a bit of tolerance on both sides must be seen.
In conclusion I think there is a reasonable justification for banning smoking in all enclosed public buildings and enclosed workplaces, despite the infringement on the rights of people to smoke based on the assumption that passive smoking can damage the health.
I’m broadly in favour of the ban that is being brought in the UK but I feel that other measures such as providing separate areas in which smokers could be with adequate ventilation systems could have been examined further.
Should we ban smoking in public places because smoking is damaging to people who choose to smoke? NO
Should we ban smoking in public places because it is annoying to others? NO
Should we ban smoking in public places because through passive smoking it is damaging to the health of others where they have real a choice to avoid it? NO
Should we ban smoking in public places because through passive smoking it is damaging to the health of others where they have no real choice to avoid it? YES
Should we ban smoking in (enclosed) public places because by passive smoking it is damaging to the health of workers in those public spaces? YES
What do you think?
Summary: YES to protect the health of vulnerable poeple. NO because it is bad for you.