As the US government continues to restrict the rights of smokers, there is increasing debate as to the ethics of such a policy and its place within a civilized and democratic society. This debate has intensified recently with legislation being implemented to ban smoking from the side walks and well populated streets of Great Neck Village in Long Island, as the local board of this affluent suburb upheld complaints and suggestions from its residents. This is considered to be the first instance of authority restricting smoking in public and completely open spaces.
This follows on from the decreasing tolerance shown by governments towards smoking, and specific bans on smoking in various enclosed public areas and establishments. This ethos, coupled with the escalating costs of buying cigarettes and tobacco, has been credited with reducing the number of smokers by over 6 percent of the population since 1990. While this has been accepted as beneficial to society and its members, there is some debate that the continual tightening of smoking regulations is actually an affront to personal choice and liberty.
A Personal Choice? The Arguments of Smokers
The argument of smokers in the US is based primarily on the fact that they live in a democratic society with the supposed freedom of choice. This applies to any act or decision that can be taken within the existing laws, and as smoking remains a legal practice then theoretically there should no serious restrictions on its practice. There is an unclear and conflicting message sent concerning smoking by government legislation’s, with smokers being subjected to numerous restrictions and price increases on the basis that smoking is detrimental to health, while cigarettes are still sold on every street in the USA without any serious stipulations.
This is at odds with clear and concise law creation and enforcement, and is an example of a government attempting to please two completely diverse sections of society while not managing to keep either fully happy. Current legislation states that smoking is legal and this notion is supported by the fact that cigarettes are readily available in stores and retail outlets. Despite this, it is also influenced by the recommendations of health officials and studies that state it is harmful to both the smokers and those close by, leading to serious restrictions on its practice and where smokers can light a cigarette. From the viewpoint of the smoker, this is placing undue intolerance on a perfectly legal and viable activity.
Secondary to this, a keen argument put forward by smokers is the fact that there are other issues more pertinent to the health of society that remain unchallenged. As a significant contributor to air pollution, the carbon monoxide emissions of vehicles are far more prevalent than those made by cigarette smokers, and yet the driving of cars continues to remain unchecked or hindered by government legislation. If pollution and the damage that secondary smoke can cause is the main issue in implementing smoking restrictions, then there would appear to be more effective areas on which to concentrate. A possible conclusion to draw from this is that governments are using smokers as easy targets for law.
Smoking as a Health Issue
The vast majority of people in the US do now not smoke, and therefore most of society will welcome the moves to ban smoking in public. The vast amounts of cash and time that been devoted to researching the effects of smoking have yielded well publicized results, which have confirmed that smoking can not influence and trigger respiratory disease but also do so in those who are exposed to persistent secondary smoking. Here in lies the main issue that concerns smoking, as it is not only a potential health issue for those who choose to smoke cigarettes. As the notion of personal liberty is therefore irrelevant for an act that effects others, government have a duty to protect its younger and vulnerable members of society.
This point is central to the whole debate, and negates the argument that smoking should be the sole choice of the smoker. In any area where there are people who retain the right not to smoke cigarettes, then they should not be subjected to secondary smoke at the bequest of another’s choice, whether it be in a closed or open public environment. This is why restrictions exist, and are beginning to be implemented in outdoor areas and on sidewalks at the suggestion of the majority of US voters. When you consider these facts, restricting the practice of smoking in public establishments and spaces is not so much an affront to personal liberty, but more an act of a government upholding the rights and wishes of the majority of the people that it represents.
Democracy for EveryoneThis is perhaps the point that smokers miss when discussing their personal liberty and the right to smoke. The government has a duty to protect all US citizens, but in an educated and liberal society it is impossible to create legislation to please or satisfy everyone. Therefore, legislation has to be created to best reflect the bulk of society and community, and the different activities that people pursue within it. In looking to maintain the health and liberties of those who choose not to smoke, a government is faced with two choices. They can either continue the implementation of restrictions in specified areas of concern, or create a black and white legislation that rules smoking an illegal act. Their current actions are simply supportive of democracy and the overall demands of society.