Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently signed into law a bill that would ban smoking in New York City parks, on public beaches, and in pedestrian plazas such as Times Square. Naturally, some Citizens are decrying the law's merits claiming it goes too far in curtailing people's civil liberties. I say the law is only a good beginning but actually doesn't go far enough and here's why.
Of course, smoking is a major hot-button subject rivaled, perhaps, only by gun control and alcohol issues. Indeed, it's interesting that all three of these highly polarizing "civil liberties" come under the aegis of the ATF (that is, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives whose motto is "At the frontline against violent crime"). Ironically, the very people who yell from the rooftops about the unconstitutionality of banning alcohol use and gun control are the very ones who provide fuel and ammunition (pun intended) for the case against public smoking. How is that?
Gun control advocates wave the Second Amendment as justification for having guns. Proponents of alcohol use remind us of the futile, foolishness of Prohibition. Similarly, tobacco advocates trumpet similar sentiments by crying about government control trampling on their constitutionally protected right to smoke.
Yet even the President of the NRA can't wave his guns around in public and is required by law to take precautions about their safe use, storage and transport, even in private dwellings. Likewise even the most ardent alcohol lobbyist is prohibited from drinking in most public spaces, while driving, and from forcing alcohol on people who prefer not to drink it (like children).
Face it, you simply can't just walk down the street waving your pistol and/or sucking down your favorite whisky or beer. But, according to the poor trod-upon smokers, it should be just fine to walk down the street, sit on a park bench, or on a beach while exposing innocent people to the foul, carcinogenic miasma of secondhand smoke that has been incontrovertibly proven a serious health hazard? What's more, studies are now indicating that so-called "third-hand" smoke (i.e., the smelly film of volatile, poisonous smoke particles that cling to a smoker's clothes and hair) is also seriously bad for people's health.
This means that smoker's families are at risk, especially their children, every time they invoke their civil liberty of lighting up and then even after they've finished smoking.
Now, I'm not suggesting that smoking be totally outlawed (only because of the lesson that the Volstead Act taught us) but that it be much more radically limited to strictly private venues where not a single, non-smoking man, woman, or child can ever be involuntarily exposed to the harmful effects of smoker's "civil liberty."
Also of huge importance are the tremendous, avoidable costs that we all incur because of smoking. According to recent CDC data smoking costs approximately $193 billion annually. This figure includes about $97 billion from loss of productivity due to premature death and $96 billion in smoking-related health care costs (not even taking into consideration the ever-escalating cost of health insurance). Then there's the 443,000 deaths annually including 49,400 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure. Sadly, these data can't begin to calculate to enormity of the emotional costs to victims of smoking-related illness and their loved ones.
Compare this with the CDC's data noting there are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States and approximately 32,000 firearm-related deaths. Hence, every year smoking kills four times as many people as alcohol and guns combined yet the laws protecting people from the dangers of smoking are far more lax than they are for guns and alcohol.
In closing, let me quote the famous sign from Ken's Magic Shop: "Thank You for Not Smoking. Cigarette smoke is the residue of your pleasure. It contaminates the air, pollutes my hair and clothes, not to mention my lungs. This takes place without my consent. I have a pleasure, also. I like a beer now and then. The residue of my pleasure is urine. Would you be annoyed if I stood on a chair and pissed on your head and your clothes without your consent?"
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!
Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.