Anti-smoking advocate fears movement’s gone too far

Adam Jablonowski Contributor
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As outdoor smoking bans spread, at least one anti-smoking activist is worried they’ve gone too far.

New Yorkers are already banned from smoking almost anywhere, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg making the practice illegal in public spaces last May. In Canada, dozens of municipalities are set to ban — or already have — smoking on all city property including parks, beaches, and restaurant patios.

Anti-smoking advocates have successfully stigmatized the practice of indoor smoking, billing second-hand smoke as a detrimental health risk.

But those who support outdoor bans on the basis of second-hand risk may not have science on their side, said Dr. Michael Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking advocate and professor at the Boston University of Public Health. Siegel worries that the anti-smoking movement he’s supported has overstepped its goals.

“There is no evidence that fleeting second-hand exposure in an open space is significantly harmful,” said Siegel, in an interview with the Canadian National Post. “Once we leave the firm ground of science, we could be viewed as zealots — fanatics trying to eliminate smoking anywhere and everywhere.”

Aside from health concerns, some supporters of an outright ban on smoking consider the practice to be a “nuisance.”

“Smoking in a public place, even outdoors, is a nuisance for all those close to the smoker,” said Steven Erdelyi, a lawmaker for the city of Côte Saint-Luc, Quebec, in a statement on the outdoor smoking ban in his community.

Robert Walsh, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control says that Canada’s “socialist” tendencies dictate that smoking be banned in the country.

In Canada, “[s]moking is not one of our rights and freedoms,” said Walsh. “In a socialist country like Canada, we want regulations that will help people make the choices that will help the common good. It’s part of our culture.”

As smoking bans spread, civil rights activists are growing increasingly worried.

“There’s a kind of crusading spirit behind this. It marks a slow process where people lose the critical capacity to say, ‘This is enough,’” said British sociologist Frank Furedi. “People become very scared to speak out because they will be accused of being complicit in endangering the lives of children,” he told the National Post.

But even if anti-smoking advocates are successful at outlawing smoking in public places, enforcement would be nearly impossible, said anti-smoking advocate and Petrolia, Ontario mayor John McCharles.

McCharles described problems with proposed Canadian legislation that would ban smoking in public parks, on beaches, and restaurant patios to the National Post.

“My concern is dictating to small business, who already have a hard time competing, that they can’t allow patrons to smoke on their outdoor patios or on their golf courses,” explained McCharles. “It can also turn into regulating things we can’t enforce.”

“No smoking on a beach? I just don’t see that happening.”

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