My op-ed in today's New York Times argues that New York City's ban on smoking in all parks and beaches, which will go into effect on May 23, goes too far because it is not necessary in order to protect the public from any significant public health hazard.
In the piece, I argue that in outdoor places where nonsmokers can move freely about, the duration of secondhand smoke exposure is so short that it does not represent any substantial threat to the public's health. Instead, policy makers have enacted this law on the basis that government intervention is justified to prevent even fleeting exposure to tobacco smoke.
I also point out that because policy makers supporting these policies have realized that the scientific evidence does not support their position, anti-smoking groups have recently begun to manufacture evidence that even fleeting exposure to tobacco smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer. I highlight the Surgeon General's recent statement that even brief exposure to tobacco smoke causes heart disease and cancer, and explain why that assertion is unfounded and inaccurate.
Finally, I argue that the zeal to extend smoking bans to places where nonsmokers can easily avoid exposure is going to harm the tobacco control movement in the long run. By trying to convince the public that even a brief exposure to tobacco smoke causes heart disease and cancer, we are going to risk losing our public credibility. Moreover, we are going to risk losing what really matters at this point: extending the protection from the real hazards of secondhand smoke in the workplace - especially in bars, restaurants, and casinos - to the millions of workers who currently do not enjoy such protections.
By casting ourselves as zealots whose real goal is simply to eliminate smoking everywhere that a nonsmoker might even have to see someone smoking, we are sacrificing the validity of our arguments in favor of workplace smoking bans. In the long run, that is going to harm our cause more than the trivial gains to be realized from banning smoking in every remote outdoors location in New York City.