Monday, March 20, 2006

ASH Questions Whether Calabasas Smoking Ban is Going Too Far

Don't have a heart attack -- I'm not talking about the U.S. Action on Smoking and Health group.

The British Action on Smoking and Health (ASH-UK), as quoted in an article in today's Guardian, questioned the need for outdoor bans in places where nonsmokers can avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, suggesting that perhaps Calabasas' ordinance goes too far.

According to the article, ASH-UK stated: "In some outdoor environments, like football grounds and railway stations, there is genuine cause for concern. But in other places, there are pretty obvious facts about air circulation which mean the potential for harm is far less. Certainly, stopping people smoking in their homes is taking things a bit far."

The article continues: "OK, but let us briefly adopt the Californian position. What if someone sparks up on their balcony, there's a big gust of wind and some hapless person 50 yards away is hit by a very diluted puff of smoke? You may as well put in a call to the undertakers there and then, eh? 'You've got to get this issue down to what's reasonable and sensible,' Arnott [of ASH-UK] says, with a very British kind of pragmatism. 'That's an extreme, fundamentalist position. And I don't think we're that kind of country, are we?'"

The Rest of the Story

Bravo for ASH-UK!

It's about time that some anti-smoking group come out and put an end to the relentness march towards banning smoking everywhere, even where the science- and policy-based arguments for these bans break down. Kudos to ASH-UK for acknowledging that efforts to protect people from every possible bit of drifting tobacco smoke is not what the smoke-free movement should be about, and for having the courage to suggest that groups like their U.S. namesake (ASH-US) are taking an "extreme, fundamentalist" position.

Remember that it was also ASH-UK that became the first tobacco control organization on public record (to the best of my knowledge) to condemn policies by which employers refuse to hire smokers.

It appears that ASH-UK's position is very similar to the one I have taken, which supports indoor (workplace) smoking bans but questions the need for outdoor smoking bans in places where people can move freely about.

Obviously, it is in sharp contrast to ASH-US's public statements, which seem to me to support banning smoking everywhere, even in private homes.

I think this action by ASH-UK is significant because it breaks down one huge barrier to the return of the tobacco control movement to some sense of reason and sensibility in its push for smoke-free laws: no longer am I the only tobacco control advocate or group to publicly oppose these broad outdoor smoking bans, such as in Calabasas.

Now what we need is for some United States groups - I'll take even one for now - to take a similar action as ASH-UK has done. But I won't be holding my breath.

The contrast between ASHes is a huge one. But it represents, in my opinion, the difference between a position that remains science-based and retains public credibility and one that is fanatical and threatens the credibility of the tobacco control movement.

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