Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ASH Compares Smoking to Public Urination; Calls on Completely Banning Smoking in Public Because Smoke is Offensive and a Public Nuisance

In a press release issued today, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) compared smoking to urinating in public, calling it offensive and a public nuisance, and therefore warranting being banned anywhere in public, just like urination.

According to ASH, smoking, like urine, is "offensive to the sense of smell" and interferes with "the comfortable enjoyment of life." Therefore, according to ASH's reasoning, smoking outdoors is a "public nuisance" and should be completely banned.

The press release states: "Two recent rulings suggest that smoking in public, like urinating in public, may one day be declared a public nuisance, at least in California. ... any immediate health risk created by a few ounces of liquid urine in a deserted parking lot would seem to be very small, especially when compared with the health risks created by even small amounts of tobacco smoke in the air. ... Public smoking also appears to satisfy the second criteria for a public nuisance which is that it must interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life. ... the smoke from a person smoking on a sidewalk could constitute a public nuisance even if some members of the public say they don't find the smoke offensive, and even if many were not present at the time the smoking occurred. With California's broad and open-ended definition as to what constitutes the misdemeanor crime of creating a public nuisance, a formal finding by California that tobacco smoke outdoors is a 'toxic air contaminant' because it can cause cancers and heart attacks in nonsmokers, and a court ruling that urinating in a deserted parking lot is a nuisance because it creates a situation which endangers public health and can be offensive to the sense of smell, smoking outdoors might one day be declared to be a public nuisance."

ASH also supported its call for public smoking to be declared a public nuisance because such a declaration would allows cities to prosecute public smokers as criminals, and because it would open the door to private lawsuits brought by citizens who are offended by smoke and they could recover monetary damages for their discomfort: "Such a ruling could be important because, even if the authorities decline to prosecute the activity as a crime, the law frequently permits individuals to bring civil actions to abate a public nuisance, and sometimes to obtain monetary damages in compensation and as a deterrent."

The Rest of the Story

I find it disgraceful that ASH is comparing smoking to public urination and suggesting that outdoor smoking be banned because it is a public nuisance.

The appearance of ASH's actions, to me, is that they simply despise smokers, are offended by smokers, and want to get them out of their sight and punish them for being inferior people, who unlike nonsmokers, are not the virtues of healthy behavior for the world to emulate.

You can't tell me that there is any rational public health justification behind ASH's position or its actions. There simply is not. This is not about public health. It is simply about punishing people who ASH despises because the group apparently finds smoking to be offensive.

Perhaps the give-away is ASH's reveling in the fact that a declaration of smoking as a public nuisance would make smokers criminals and would allow nonsmokers to sue smokers and recover monetary damages from them if they lit up in public. ASH's proposal would confine smokers to the privacy of their own homes - which is exactly where ASH apparently would like all smokers to stay.

I think declaring smoking to be a public nuisance would be a grave mistake. It would open the door to declaring all kinds of behaviors that some people don't like or find offensive to be public nuisances. There are a lot of people who find it offensive for gay couples to be present in public and in the sight of their children. Similar reasoning that ASH is using could one day lead to policies that declare gay couples expressing affection in public as being a public nuisance. Bad body odor and excessive perfume could also be declared to be public nuisances since they may offend the sense of smell and interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life.

So let me be the first (and probably only) tobacco control advocate to distance myself from this position. This is not a road that we want to go down. And I reject it completely and unequivocally.

No comments: