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Beware the Anti-Smoking Puritans

2015-07-20

Banning smoking outdoors is petty and vindictive. The health benefits are zero to insignificant. The outdoor environment itself poses greater risks.

Consider a public park. It's open to the elements: wind and rain, snow and ice, animals, birds and insects. Think of all that pollen floating on the breeze, dust kicked up from the ground and, in the cities, nearby traffic pollution. What about the risk of pneumonia from a sudden downpour or being struck by lightening or a falling tree branch or anaphylactic shock from a bee sting? Do you really want to lay your head on a patch of grass that ten minutes earlier hosted a steaming dog turd? Forget the guy sitting on a bench peacefully enjoying a cigarette. If you’re going to ban smoking in parks on health grounds, then you might as well ban parks themselves.

Some places ban smoking in the street. Yes, the dirty, dusty street, where you are surrounded by exhaust fumes and more likely to be hit by a bus, motorcycle, car, bicycle or a falling object or by slipping on ice or tripping on the curb and breaking your neck.

Other places ban smoking on the beach, in the open air, on the sand, beside an ocean, where there’s a far greater risk from ultraviolet radiation (sunstroke, skin cancer), dehydration (especially from alcohol), drowning (the number one killer of children), underwater rocks and shells, pollution (industrial waste, agricultural runoff, human sewage) or the detritus that washes up on the shore from the swirling scum of plastic and glass that roams the tides.

Those who want to ban outdoor smoking on health grounds, therefore, have lost touch with reality – to the point of mental illness. Their rhetoric is certainly not calm and sober. Nor is the data conclusive (JNCI 1998JNCI 2013AAAS 2015). When one considers that banning smoking indoors is a gross overreaction to the risks of environmental tobacco smoke, banning smoking outdoors is moral bullying, pure and simple. The same applies to vaping, for which there are few if any known health risks.

The anti-smoking crusade has gone too far, becoming a religion, shrill and hysterical. Anti-smoking propaganda is more aggressive and dishonest than anything produced by tobacco advertisers. If it were targeted against any other aspect of a person's lifestyle (alcohol, diet, sports, sex) – all of which can be classified as either unhealthy or dangerous – there would be a public outcry against such heavy-handed paternalism. Moreover, such paternalism is anathema to the Western liberal tradition that we so proudly wave in the face of illiberal cultures. No wonder they call us hypocrites. We condemn authoritarianism in others yet breech our own standards of rationality and tolerance.