Where There’s Smoke, There’s Controversy
Recently, some of our Charlotte County commissioners made an attempt to conduct a public hearing to consider limiting tobacco smoking in designated public places. The motion for the public hearing was defeated, but apparently will come to the forefront in the near future. The following discussion is not an attempt to justify or condemn smoking in public, but rather is an attempt to outline salient points to consider prior to passing ordinances.
For the last number of years the issue of tobacco smoking, be it in private or in public, has been controversial. First of all, it has been proven beyond a doubt that smoking is absolutely destructive to the smoker, too often resulting in a myriad of cancers, aneurisms and a whole plethora of extremely unpleasant maladies. Those that deny this fact are delusionary and probably do not face reality in other areas.
But what about a smoker’s affect on those around him or her, i.e., second hand smoke. The effects are not so straight forward, because they are largely a matter of degree. Consider carbon monoxide. This gas is extremely toxic to humans in concentrated amounts, for example, when an automobile runs in an enclosed garage, but on the street the potential toxicity is seldom given a second thought. Perhaps this is because it is odorless and our senses are not aware of its presence. Could tobacco smoke be compared to carbon monoxide in the same way? In enclosed spaces the effects of either are bad; in open spaces maybe not so bad, but the county commission would not consider ordinances to control carbon monoxide, only to control tobacco smoke, if at all.
So in what places could smoking ordinances rationally apply? Consider enclosed public facilities, i.e., places where people have no choice but to enter (government buildings, schools, etc.); enclosed public/private facilities (restaurants, bars, etc.), where the public and prospective employees have a choice whether or not to enter; outdoor public facilities (parks, bike trails, etc.); and outdoor public/private facilities (ballparks, stadiums, outdoor cafes, etc.). The first two examples are enclosed places where tobacco smoke can become concentrated and possibly harmful to non-smokers, while in the latter examples, the smoke would probably not become concentrated enough to be harmful (like carbon monoxide example), but could be a nuisance to those who find the smell unpleasant. The attempt here is to distinguish between the unhealthy (concentrated smoke) and the unpleasant (the stink).
Two other issues have been mentioned; that of the mess from discarded smoking materials in parks and on beaches and that of the example on children set by smokers. As far as the mess is concerned, the number of smokers is declining (as is the resultant mess) and probably will drop to some permanent low level over time. Therefore, is it rational to further burden a declining law enforcement force with enforcing smoking regulations or should the problem be addressed by challenging smokers not to leave a mess in the parks or on the beaches (add a sentence to existing signs).
Is the argument that smokers set bad examples for children a valid one? Perhaps, but it is most likely a function of the one who is setting the example. Children as well as adults tend to emulate people they look up to, not just someone they see on the street or in a park. This should be a warning to parents, relatives and public figures that children admire. Will passing laws to prevent smoking in parks and little league venues accomplish anything in this area? Probably not.
Hopefully the thoughts laid out here will provide some points to consider when discussing laws to limit smoking in Charlotte County. Too often “feel-good” ordinances are passed that have no effect on what they intended to correct. Avoid the approach of “they should not be doing it and I don’t like it, so let’s pass a law against it”. Think!
Oh, by the way, the writer is a former long-term smoker who suffered one of the aforementioned maladies as a result.
Anthony J. Biell
September 20, 2011