Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Editorial Predicts that All Outdoor Smoking will Soon be Outlawed

An editorial in the Walla Walla (Oregon) Union-Bulletin commends the recent decision by the Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland to ban smoking completely on its campus (indoors and outdoors). In doing so, the editorial predicts that over time, smoking will be outlawed in all outdoor public places.

The editorial states: “Last week officials at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland decided that its entire campus - indoors and outdoors - will be tobacco free as of Sept. 17. The new policy will apply to employees, students, visitors, patients and patient family members. … So why has OHSU taken this ultra-bold step? Officials say OHSU wants to set the highest standard in maintaining a healthy environment. It also wants to serve as a model for others. The reasoning is sound. … bans of this type will occur. Slowly, one by one, outdoor smoking in public places will be outlawed. Society is moving in that direction, and the shift is occurring far faster than we would have imagined even two years ago. And we believe - as do many others who have grown tired of inhaling second-hand smoke - the new direction is a very good one.”

The Rest of the Story

This is an important editorial; the reason I chose to highlight it is that it demonstrates that there is a public perception that the smoke-free air movement is not simply about protecting workers and the public from significant exposure to secondhand smoke which increases the risk of significant health hazards. Instead, it appears that there is a public perception, exhibited by this editorial, that the movement is simply about clearing the air completely of all tobacco smoke and preventing nonsmokers from ever having to inhale any secondhand smoke.

In other words, the editorial is expressing what smokers’ rights group have been saying for many years in their opposition to workplace smoking bans: that this is not just an attempt to protect workers’ health, but instead, is the beginning of an effort whose real goal is to prohibit all smoking outside the home (and maybe even inside the home as well – see this article from Wales).

In testifying in support of well over 100 local smoke-free workplace, bar, and restaurant ordinances, I was often confronted by opposition groups which argued that our (“the antis”) true goal was to ban smoking everywhere. I repeatedly countered these groups by emphasizing that the goal was merely to prevent workers and the public from situations of substantial exposure that could lead to significant, and often devastating health effects. This was not a back-door route to prohibition. This was not an attempt to moralize to smokers and to force them to quit. This was not an attempt to protect nonsmokers from every possible wisp of secondhand smoke exposure. This was truly a life and death issue for nonsmokers who are exposed under conditions where they cannot easily avoid substantial exposure to secondhand smoke.

Unfortunately, it appears that I was wrong. Increasingly, it appears that the actual goal is to completely eliminate all exposure – however brief or insignificant – to secondhand smoke, and to control the behavior of smokers by making it unlawful for them to smoke (not by outlawing smoking, but by disallowing smoking in any particular locations). If you can’t smoke indoors in any public place, you can’t smoke outdoors, and you can’t smoke in your home, then you can’t lawfully smoke.

To my disappointment, not a single anti-smoking group has spoken out to clarify their goals. Not a single group has even bothered to point out that the goal is not to protect nonsmokers from every wisp of tobacco smoke, but instead, to regulate what is a significant health hazard.

When Calabasas proposed an ordinance which essentially banned smoking everywhere outdoors, but exempted the crowded (and financially lucrative) Calabasas Commons, I was the only anti who publicly spoke out against that ordinance. In fact, at least seven anti-smoking groups actively supported that proposal.

When Belmont proposed to ban all smoking outdoors, including at the homes of members of the public – a move which would certainly increase children’s exposure to secondhand smoke (since their parents would be forced to smoke indoors instead of outside) – I was again the only anti to publicly oppose this measure. And I was lambasted for that by my colleagues.

I feel like I was running a marathon and I reached the 26.2 mile mark and stopped running, and everyone else around me just kept on going.

Ironically, I think that it severely weakens our case for workplace smoking bans. For when the opponents get up and suggest that this is just the first step to eventual elimination of smoking everywhere, we can no longer rise and say that they are exaggerating and misreading our true intent.

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