Dear Bill Nelson,
By its very wafting yet cloud-like nature, cigarette smoke seems to cross some kind of invisible line. As more cities and states consider bans on smoking in public places, we must continue to grapple with issues of fairness and explore pro and con arguments. For my part, I support smoking bans with very few reservations. If you intuitively support public smoking curtailment but need some logical support, here are some brief arguments in favor of smoking bans.
Whereas the effects of other self-indulgent, personally harmful behaviors are more singularly linked to the participant, the injurious effects of smoking in public spill over into other people's lives with a more consistent, tangible, and (sometimes) permanent impact. To underscore this argument, let's contrast smoking with something else such as poor dietary choices.
Smoking in public is different from, say, eating greasy fast food for every meal. Both are understood as significantly harmful to the consumer - but in the latter case, the negative impact on other people is indirect. Maybe the poor eater will die earlier, leaving their family members in a tough position. Maybe their habit will result in more time away from work due to illness. Or maybe it just contributes to the arguably negative fast food stronghold on America. While some links are present between the poor eating behavior and consequences for other people, those links are weaker and ultimately more debatable when we're talking about a lousy diet.
The same cannot be said for smoking. Secondhand smoke exposure is clearly linked with negative outcomes on one's health. While the exact degree of the harm is still debated, it's increasingly harder to make a case that second-hand smoke causes no significant injury to the breather - especially over longer periods of time.Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a complex mixture of thousands of compounds including particulate matter emitted by the combustion of tobacco products and from smoke exhaled by smokers. It contains > 50 chemicals recognized as known and probable human carcinogens, other animal carcinogens, and many toxic and irritant agents. Over the past two decades, scientific evidence has accumulated linking SHS exposure to adverse health outcomes, including respiratory outcomes in children and adults, acute cardiovascular effects, and lung cancer (Sureda 2013). From cancer to heart disease, the scientific evidence has mounted for decades now. Furthermore, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that even short-term secondhand smoke has a palpable effect on many of its breathers. While just temporary exposure to smoke may cause less permanent harm, symptoms like headaches, breathing difficulties, and even nausea are well-documented and common. The evidence is quite solid that inhaling smoke has numerous long-term and short-term consequences for bystanders who, for the most part, are "innocent."
While it falls more into the annoyance category than the tangible harm category, one can also make an argument about the odor of smoke. Especially in restaurants or bars that allow smoking, many patrons find the presence of smoke annoying. That, on its own is not a tenable argument for an all-out public smoking ban. However, the fact that cigarette smoke tends to linger in one's clothing and hair means that smoke is different from, say, excessively loud talking or someone's unpleasant body odor. While annoying to most folks, the displeasure with these other things tends to fade quickly once the offending person's behavior is successfully left behind. However, in the case of cigarette smoke odor, the undesirable, palpable effects linger for some time after one has left the immediate area of the smoke. A jacket worn to a smoky bar for 30 minutes may still smell like smoke three days later, but a jacket worn next to a smelly hobo for an equally long bus ride isn't likely to endure such a smelly fate.