Friday, May 27, 2011

New England Journal of Medicine Commentary Suggests that NYC Outdoor Smoking Ban Goes Too Far

Echoing the sentiments I presented in my op-ed in the New York Times, a commentary appearing this week online ahead of print in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the outdoor smoking ban which went into effect in New York City this week goes too far (see: Colgrove J, Bayer R, Bachynski KE. Nowhere left to hide? The banishment of smoking from public places. New England Journal of Medicine 2011; 10.1056/nejmp1104637).

In the article, Colgrove et al., who are from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, argue that the New York City outdoor smoking ban goes beyond the need to protect nonsmokers from the health hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. They cite testimony indicating that the purpose of the ordinance was, in part, to protect nonsmokers from having to see smokers in public.

In support of this point, the researchers cited a statement made by the NYC Health Commissioner in support of the ordinance: "Farley emphasized the importance of protecting children from exposure to adult smokers who would serve as negative role models. “Families,” he said, “should be able to bring their children to parks and beaches knowing 0that they won’t see others smoking.”"

The authors point out that: "air-monitoring studies have shown that health risks to people exposed to secondhand smoke outdoors drop off dramatically when the source of the smoke is more than 2 m away. The editor of the journal Tobacco Control dismissed as “flimsy” the evidence that secondhand smoke poses a threat to the health of nonsmokers in most outdoor settings. Nevertheless, smoking opponents continue to press their case using a variety of claims, including public health rationales as well as “public nuisance” arguments such as litter abatement."

The article concludes: "In the absence of direct health risks to others, bans on smoking in parks and beaches raise questions about the acceptable limits for government to impose on conduct."

The Rest of the Story

This is an interesting article because it shows how many public health practitioners who are outside of the tobacco control movement view the issue of these widespread outdoor smoking bans. This type of opinion would never be tolerated inside the tobacco control movement, as I demonstrated last week when I revealed that members of the Globalink list-serve attacked me for sharing my similar opinion publicly, rather than keeping it confined within the tobacco control movement.

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