As of last week, smoking in parks, beaches, and pedestrian malls in New York is illegal. Yet at the same time, Texas takes the prize for being one of the most backwards states in the Union missing an opportunity to approve a state-wide smoking ban in its 82nd Legislative Session. Are we on track to fulfill the CDC’s prediction that every state will have smoking bans by 2020?
Already I outlined the need for these smoking bans in my previous post. Since then, a study funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that secondhand smoke (SHS) has a direct, measurable impact on the brain just as it does for a smoker. The researchers’ tests demonstrate that nicotine inhaled from SHS crosses the blood-brain barrier and results in increases nicotonic acetylcholine receptor levels in the brain —a factor, according to the authors, that may contribute to a greater likelihood of an individual becoming a smoker as a teenager and the meaintenance of cigarette smoking in adult smokers. With nearly 3,500 kids under the age of 18 trying cigarettes for the first time every day and 850 of them becoming daily smokers (perhaps in part because of these changes to the brain), it seems even more important for state-wide smoking bans.
And New York has taken strides to keep its citizens safe from SHS by banning smoking in parks, beaches or pedestrian malls. But this does come with questions of whether the government (whether state government as in the smoking cessation laws or federal government) should be involved in personal decisions of whether to smoke or not by placing more and more restrictions on smoking. Should their be limits on such government intervention? Or does the overall public good outweigh the infringement of such autonomy?
Obviously, smoking is harmful to both smokers and non-smokers. Smoking’s effects are 100% preventable including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health complications. Still, is this a slippery slope? If we start restricting peoples’ ability to choose to smoke, will we step into the trap of restricting other public health issues? I don’t think so necessarily. I think the smoking bans are a necessary step and the public good of outlawing smoking in public places outweighs the autonomy issues. The effects of smoking are too severe impose on the public – those who don’t choose to smoke.
By increasing smoking bans, we produce environments to raise healthier children and keep ourselves healthier. We continue to stigmatize smoking to hopefully create a culture that won’t accept the behaviour. Hopefully, it will encourage others to reduce or quit smoking, but (in my opinion) it won’t.
These bans also won’t outlaw smoking completely. It won’t start a black market. Rather, it will make smoking a bit more clandestine or and solitary. So, those who want to smoke still have the option – all freedom isn’t torn away from smokers.
Today is World No Tobacco Day with the World Health Organization reminding us that smoking is ugly. Unfortunately, the southern states still aren’t on board – Texas among them. As the Texas legislature doesn’t meet for another year and half (January 2013), a state-wide smoking ban will have to wait – and Texans’ health will have to suffer in the meantime. Still, perhaps we can reach the CDC’s prediction that all states will have such bans by 2020 – with hope, we will sooner rather than later.
Reuters reports this morning – Australia is set to pass the world’s toughest anti-smoking laws that would restrict tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text appearing on packs, with the only distinguishing marks being the brand and product name in a standard text and color. Packaging will be olive green.
See this great New England Journal Of Medicine Article – Nowhere Left to Hide? The Banishment of Smoking from Public Spaces