Sunday, December 09, 2007

GOING TOO FAR: Nova Scotia Town Proposes to Ban Smoking in All Outdoor Public Places, Including Streets, Sidewalks, and Parks

If a bylaw being considered by the town council is enacted, the only outdoors location where residents of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia will be able to smoke is outside their own homes (but not in the street or on the sidewalk). If not on private property, smokers will be in violation of the law, which was approved 3-2 on an initial vote, but which must be agreed to in a final vote (two councillors were absent for the initial vote).

According to an article from a CBC News site, the proposed bylaw "would ban smoking on all town property, including streets, sidewalks and parks."

This was confirmed by a CNEWS article, which wrote that the bylaw "would make it illegal to smoke in almost all [outdoors] public places within the town's limits."

The impetus for the new law? Apparently, someone complained about a person smoking in front of a school.

Yesterday, dozens of smokers lit up on the two bridges in Bridgewater which cross the LaHave river to protest the proposed bylaw. These would be the only public outdoors locations where smoking would be allowed under the proposal, since the bridges are owned by the province and are not subject to the regulation.

A number of the protesters were not opposed to the idea of indoor smoking bans, but thought this proposal was going too far. For example, according to CBC News: "Protester Bob Lewis said he can understand the current rules against smoking in bars and restaurants, but finds the latest proposal goes too far."

The Rest of the Story

I agree completely with the sentiments expressed by protester Bob Lewis. The latest proposal does go too far. Smoking on streets and sidewalks and in parks does not represent such a substantial threat to the public's health that it needs to be banned. An all-out ban on smoking in outdoors public places goes too far and divorces the tobacco control movement from any kind of rational science base. It also threatens to cast those of us who support workplace smoking bans as being fanatics who are simply trying to achieve prohibition through the back door.

Why should the sight of a smoker outside a school prompt an effort to ban smoking throughout the town? If the intent is simply to protect nonsmokers from health damage caused by secondhand smoke exposure, then there is no need to go this far. Instead, it seems that the real impetus for this proposal is a distaste for the idea that young people might see people smoking.

If you are going to regulate smoking in public places, I think you do so in order to protect people from secondhand smoke. I don't think you regulate smoking in public places in order to keep kids from seeing people smoking. The former is justified on public health grounds. The latter is not.

More disturbingly, the latter intent (to protect kids from seeing smokers) casts a negative moral value on smoking. It becomes more than simply a health issue. It now becomes a moral issue. I think that is a mistake, because I don't think we want to mix up lifestyle choices with morality. It could have devastating consequences in a number of ways.

If I happened to be a resident of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, I would have joined the group of protesters on the bridges over the LaHave river yesterday. Not lighting up myself, of course, but standing with them in their opposition to an over-reactive policy proposal that paints tobacco control advocates as being fanatics. The Bridgewater town council should throw this idea where it belongs - right into the LaHave river.

(Thanks to Kevin for the tip).

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