Monday, July 14, 2008

New York County Legislator Seeking to Ban Smoking Outdoors Because It Sets a Bad Example

According to an article in the Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY), a Dutchess County legislative leader is promoting a smoking ban for all county parks and their parking lots because smoking sets a bad example for children. A similar law being considered in neighboring Ulster County would ban smoking on all county-owned property.

According to the article: "With smoking now banned in all indoor public spaces in New York state, some county officials in Ulster and Dutchess hope to join a growing number of municipalities to snuff out smoking in outdoor areas as well. The Ulster County Legislature last week set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Aug. 6 on a proposed local law that would ban smoking on all county-owned or county-controlled property. Members of the Dutchess County Legislature's Public Works Committee, meanwhile, are expected on Monday to discuss a proposal to ban the use of tobacco in county parks. ..."

"'I just feel there shouldn't be tobacco use in county parks,' said Dutchess County Legislature Majority Leader Sandra Goldberg, who led the Dutchess initiative. Goldberg, D-Wappinger, said the county's parks are intended to be a "family place" and the presence of smokers is not only harmful to those forced to breathe second-hand smoke, but it sets a bad example for children. Nearly the entire Democratic caucus in the county Legislature supports the Dutchess measure, Goldberg said."

The Rest of the Story

We will be in serious trouble when we start outlawing health behaviors in public merely because they set a bad example. Are we going to outlaw eating french fries in public because it sets a bad example to children regarding a healthy diet? Are we going to outlaw severely overweight people from public parks because they set a bad example for children? What about teenagers who have babies? Should they be banned from public parks because it sets a bad example for children?

The same reasoning that Majority Leader Goldberg is using to support banning smoking in county parks would also support each of these other measures.

The danger here is that Goldberg is turning smoking into a moral, rather than strictly a health issue. It is crossing that line from health into morals, with regards to smoking or any other health behavior, that I find unacceptable, inappropriate, and frankly - dangerous.

As I see it, smoking is not a moral issue. It is a health issue. And that's all.

Prohibiting certain behaviors in public places - such as drinking alcohol, public nudity, public sex, etc. - is justified on the grounds of public morals. There are certain behaviors which in the collective wisdom of society are viewed to violate public morality, particularly as they relate to being viewed by children.

What Goldberg is essentially doing is equating smoking with these other behaviors. She is, in fact, making a moral argument about smoking. This does cross the line from treating smoking as a public health issue to treating it as an issue of public morals.

If Goldberg and other legislators want to argue that smoking needs to be banned on all county property because it represents a substantial threat to the public's health, then they are free to make that argument and I have no problem with it. Good luck to them in trying to garner evidence to support the contention that smoking in parking lots at county parks or county buildings is a serious public health problem, but they are free to attempt to do so.

However, to argue that smoking needs to be banned on all county property because we need to protect kids from seeing this morally inappropriate behavior is no longer a public health argument. It is a public morality argument and it has no place in this debate.

No comments: