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The fact that smoking tobacco cigarettes can have dire effects on an individual’s health is not new information. Although there are fewer people partaking in this activity than there were even fifty years ago, there are still roughly one billion people worldwide who smoke cigarettes, five million of which die due to tobacco related illnesses. Medically speaking, we can all agree that cigarettes are hazardous to a smoker’s health but since tobacco products have yet to be outlawed, smoking remains a legal act that is allowed at the smoker’s discretion. However, because cigarette use is often allowed in public places that everyone uses — both smokers and nonsmokers alike — this issue has become a matter of public concern, so much so that many countries have begun establishing smoking bans in public areas. This mini-crisis has instigated the universal debate with the lead question being: should smoking be banned in all public places?
Smokers have the right to do whatever they please with their bodies; if they are fully aware of the risks, as many are, and still choose to smoke cigarettes, this is a personal issue that they may or may not choose to deal with. It is not up to the government or any other group to decide whether a person should smoke or not. Be that as it may, smoking in areas accessible to the general public has become a disturbance, the addressal of which yields much friction. Yes, smokers have the right to smoke, but how is it that nonsmokers’ rights get infringed on in the process? People who do not use cigarettes are also deserving of a clean and healthy environment free from the pollutants produced from billowing clouds of cigarette smoke. Nonsmokers are often subjected to secondhand smoke against their will when others use tobacco products in public areas such as parks, in front of public buildings, or even walking down the street on a day to day basis. Of the 480,000 deaths from cigarette smoking in the United States alone, more than 41,000 of these deaths are caused by secondhand smoke exposure. It would be one thing if smoking only physically affected the health of the participant, such as individuals who eat fast food or drink alcohol excessively, but the reality is smoking in public places impacts everyone, and most do not have any choice in the matter. What’s worse is that the effects are indiscriminate of whether the person willfully took a puff of a cigarette or simply happened to breathe in someone else’s smoke. Containing more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, secondhand smoke can still lead to cancer and a wide range of other health defects all of which are potentially fatal.
Many interest groups for the public smoking bans are also extremely concerned about the wellbeing of the mutual environment. Not only does the air in and around these public places become compromised, but the cleanliness of the area does as well. The smoking population is notorious for the waste and odor left in their wake from cigarette butts abandoned on the ground; the environment has become a makeshift ashtray littered with tobacco. According to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded piece of waste worldwide and, made of materials that are non-biodegradable, this litter is both unsightly and unhealthy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commonly known as the CDC, is one of the top advocates of smoking control and public smoking bans for a number of reasons. The organization is adamant about changing the ratio between smokers and nonsmokers to one that will be in the nonsmokers’ favor. The CDC uses evidence based reasoning in their predictions, asserting that “as the number of places one can legally smoke is reduced, people will smoke less or quit altogether”. Additionally, the CDC claims that, in references to a nonsmoker’s quality of life, the ban will ensure that the number of people who suffer from outdoor secondhand smoke will take a dramatic dive while reducing the amount of litter produced by cigarette butts. The World Health Organization has similar opinions about the benefits of smoking bans.
While they do make some valid points, these advocates are met with strong opposition by certain groups that champion smokers’ rights. One such group is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has become increasingly active in confronting anti-smoking regulations in countries around the world. The issues at the top of their list include increased cigarette taxes and, of course, public smoking bans, arguing that these laws could cause a country’s economy to suffer drastically if the tobacco industry is harmed. Similarly, a group from Iowa — a state where smoking bans and other regulations are in full force — called Freedom Fighters for All Citizens attests that smoking bans in public places are not only unfair, but unconstitutional. Members claim that a smoking ban violates civil rights because “It grants certain privileges not available to others,” which violates the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law. Freedom Fighters for All Citizens questions what is the purpose of the legality of tobacco if the law controls where people can or cannot use it and accuse legislators of being fully aware of this injustice.
The argument made by smokers has yet to hold any weight in the eyes of the judiciary, as the U.S. Supreme Court has declined cases involving whether people have the right to smoke tobacco products in public areas. Lower courts have also rejected such arguments repeatedly. For instance, in Clayton, Missouri in 2010, an ordinance was passed which prohibited smoking in public areas such as city buildings, parks and playgrounds. This ordinance was met with retaliation by Arthur Gallagher, a resident who claimed it was his right to be able to smoke in these common places. In the case Gallagher v. City of Clayton on April 10, 2013, Mr. Gallagher sued the city but was rejected by a federal judge and a federal appeals court panel. The argument that smoking bans violate constitutional rights continues to be a dismissive subject area within the federal court system. Because of the judiciary’s seemingly nonchalant attitude towards smokers against smoking bans and regard for nonsmokers rights, outspoken smokers are becoming increasingly demanding of the constitutional rights they believe they are being deprived of.
It seems that it is a constant struggle for governments to appease both the smoker and nonsmoker population at this point in time. Both have rights, and it is difficult for these entitlements to be met simultaneously without treading on the freedoms of the opposing group. I do not believe that each side can receive everything they want, but it is always good to compromise. If one group always hears “No!” at every turn, tensions could increase substantially which would be bad for everyone. Instead of simply denying smokers from using tobacco products in public places, I think it would be a better idea for smokers to have designated zones where they can smoke freely without being an immediate threat or disruption to any who do not choose to smoke. These zones would still be public areas because anyone would be allowed to smoke there, but nonsmokers would be entering at their own risk. Governments across the globe should be more open-minded to finding solutions with mutual concessions, ones where each party takes home a little piece of the cake.
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