Smoking ban creates social division
Smokers have already been forced out of cafes, restaurants and other closed public spaces in the New York City area, and while they have coped with that until now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a new ban that will affect my fellow smokers and me. Yes, I am a smoker and I know about the health risks — the threat to my heart, lungs or whatever else they figure on putting on the box to avert my addiction. But Bloomberg's plan on banning smoking outdoors in the New York City limits is over the line.
The mayor's war against smokers has the prospects of banning me from smoking in the city's parks, beaches, marinas, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas, according to The Associated Press. This means my regular run through Central Park with a cigarette in my mouth and with the numerous smoking French tourists walking through Times Square will be deemed illegal. He claims that smokers affect themselves along with those around them, and that's absolutely true. But I am not going to light a cigarette while I am sitting next to a mother and her baby, and I am also not planning on blowing smoke in anyone's face. This ban is, simply put, unethical and unfair to those who have been barred from smoking in bars or even outdoor sitting areas.
If officials are really that concerned with this "dangerous" habit, they should put an end to it altogether. Giving me the explanation that smoking is dangerous and therefore it should not be done outdoors will not make me stop smoking. Stop the production, let the tobacco companies and their political lobbyists cut their losses and get out of the business, but do not turn a legal habit into a crime in the limits of a single city.
"The science is clear: Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, whether you're indoors or out, hurts your health," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Today, we're doing something about it." That science has been clear for a long time, but this ban isn't just about that. It's also about creating sharp social divisions between groups of people. It casts smokers and nonsmokers as enemies of one another.
This sort of imposing, wide-reaching ban does not have to be the solution to the problem of secondhand smoke. Smokers and nonsmokers could get along just fine in outdoor public places if both parties just follow some simple rules of etiquette. The government doesn't have to get involved, especially not at such a highly personal level. It all comes down to common sense and common decency.
Smokers, remember: We engage in a habit that many people don't find very appealing. It's similar, in a sense, to the annoying tendency some people have to hold really loud cell-phone conversations in public spaces. It's a habit that bothers people terribly and can potentially ruin a bystander's mood. The solution to not holding really loud cell-phone conversations in public spaces is to hold the conversation where the people around you can't here it and therefore won't be bothered by it. The same holds for smoking: If you're going to smoke in public, just smoke somewhere away from people where they won't be bothered by it. Of course, smoking is more than just an annoyance: It's also very detrimental to one's health. But, as the article says, the threat of secondhand smoke is present within a three-foot radius around a smoker. So, when lighting up a cigarette in public, smokers just need to remember to move more than three feet away from nonsmokers to eliminate the threat. It's a simple, civil solution that works for everyone.
Now, nonsmokers, you're all guilty of bad etiquette, too. You need to stop marking smokers as dirty ne'er-do-wells. Laws like this aren't helping: All they do is further ostracize smokers and solidify their baseless reputation as "bad people." It isn't OK to judge all obese people as poor human beings, even though they overeat, which itself is a habit that is incredibly bad for their health. The same holds for smokers: The fact that they enjoy a self-harming behavior does not mean they are poor human beings. Nonsmokers, remember that there is a high chance that you also engage in harmful behaviors. For example, you probably drink alcohol, which can lead to liver disease. Or maybe you like to go tanning, which can lead to melanoma. Or maybe you like to drink coffee, which contains the drug caffeine, which can lead to sleep disorders. When was the last time that a recreational drinker, a sunbather or a coffee fan was shunned from society because of the harmful side effects of their habits? Probably never.
Smokers are human beings, and human beings all have their vices. Those vices don't have to be shameful little secrets. Just remember two things: First, if you're going to engage in behaviors that can cause harm or annoyance to others, make sure you act in such a way as to eliminate any threats to those around you; second, don't pass judgment on someone's moral character based solely on something as petty as a cigarette habit.
Matthew Kosinski is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and cultural anthropology.