Friday, March 09, 2012

Canadian Cancer Society Argues that Outdoor Park Smoking Bans are Necessary to Prevent Children from Even Seeing a Smoker

According to an article in the Toronto Star, the Canadian Cancer Society is supporting broad bans on smoking in outdoor places, including parks, in order to prevent children from even having to see a smoker. A spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society was quoted as asserting that park smoking bans are justified because they will prevent kids from seeing smokers, which will in turn reduce smoking initiation.

According to the article: "In a move sure to rankle smokers of the nature-loving type, the Lake Simcoe community of Georgina is a breath away from enacting one of the toughest outdoor antismoking bylaws in the province. ... “Sometimes you have to push the bar,” said Mayor Robert Grossi of his northern GTA town’s recently approved report calling for a smoking ban for the town’s beaches, parks and trails. If it passes later this month, the bylaw will sweep across much of the town’s outdoor property — adding to an existing smoking ban on playgrounds, splash pads, skateboard parks, soccer parks and sports fields." ...

"It’s a level of regulation some call heavy-handed and discriminatory toward smokers and potentially harmful to the widely successful campaign to clear restaurants, bars and workplaces of deadly second-hand smoke. “It casts the movement as being fanatical,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, a Boston University public health professor and outspoken supporter of indoor smoking bans. ... “By going to these extremes, I’m afraid the smoke-free movement is going to lose credibility,” Siegel said. “It undermines our very argument for the workplace and makes it more difficult to promote these policies.”" ...

"But advocates say outdoor bylaws force tobacco out of mainstream acceptability, encourage smokers to kick the habit and promote healthy living among impressionable youth. “It’s about decreasing smoking around children so they don’t emulate that behaviour,” said Joanne Di Nardo of the Canadian Cancer Society, a national group that has advocated with city councils across the country for outdoor bans similar to those in Georgina."

The Rest of the Story

Here's why the Canadian Cancer Society's argument doesn't hold water. If it is true that government policies which ban smoking in certain places are justified because of the government's interest in not allowing children to see smokers, so that they are less likely to smoke themselves, then what is the possible justification for allowing any smoking outdoors where smokers might be seen by children?

Why allow smoking in parking lots, on sidewalks, or in streets? Why allow smoking outside of buildings? Why allow smoking in downtown areas? Why allow smoking in any outdoor area?

If the point is to prevent children from having to see a smoker, then why is the Canadian Cancer Society not simply calling for a ban on outdoor smoking? Why not simply confine smoking to the home, so that children of nonsmokers will not have to ever see a smoker. That would certainly reduce smoking initiation rates.

While they are at it, why not ban people from eating fast food, like burgers and fries, in public places? If children see adults eating healthy food rather than fast food, they are more likely to develop healthier patterns of eating themselves.

Why not ban alcohol use in public parks? Well ... alcohol use is often banned in public places. And there's a reason for it. It is considered to be a moral issue. Behaviors like public sex and public drinking are often banned specifically because they are an affront to public morals. The point is that banning smoking in parks to prevent people from seeing a smoker is making smoking into a moral issue, rather than a health issue.

In my view, smoking bans are justified because they protect nonsmokers from the significant harmful effects of secondhand smoke. That is the reason why I've devoted much of my career to lobbying for smoking bans in bars, restaurants, casinos, and other workplaces, as well as in confined outdoor spaces like outdoor restaurant areas and stadiums. Once you cross that line and start justifying smoking bans based on preventing people from even having to see a smoker, then you've not only undermined the legitimate underpinnings behind the entire smoke-free movement, but you've entered an area that you don't want to enter: that of moralizing a legal behavior that is highly addictive and which people cannot easily control.

The rest of the story is that with this reasoning, the Canadian Cancer Society is shifting the battle against tobacco smoke into a battle against smokers. It is transforming a health issue into a moral issue. And most importantly, it is undermining the sound, legitimate basis for smoke-free regulations that are truly necessary to protect people's lives.

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