Monday, February 20, 2012

Smoking bans - coming soon to a park near you

I always hesitate to write about this topic for fear that some local nanny state government will decide to copy the idea. But if we don't educate ourselves about such efforts, they will continue unabated.

My husband's been doing some work in Pennsylvania and has brought me several newspapers from the area. In a recent Lancaster, PA, paper, I read an article about a plan to ban smoking in parks.

An effort to stamp out smoking in public places was introduced in Mountville Borough on Monday, but officials took no action.

Angela Trout, communications coordinator for the Lancaster YWCA, and Mary LeVasseur, manager of community health and wellness for Lancaster General Health, presented details of the Young Lungs at Play initiative to borough council members.

"One of our initiatives is to have smoke-free, tobacco free outdoor areas," LeVasseur said.

The program seeks to ban smoking in all municipal-owned open areas and parks in the county.

From what I could find on line, the Young Lungs At Play program is primarily in Pennsylvania and New York - so far. Soon, however, I'm sure it will be coming to a town near you.

When smoking bans first started, they were only going to be in airplanes - an enclosed area where people couldn't get away from the smoke. Then they extended to restaurants and other eateries, and to public buildings and then to entrances to public buildings. Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine and Oregon, and also Puerto Rico - have banned smoking in cars when children are present.

And now, under the convenient 'for the children' excuse, towns are banning smoking outside.

You can see that those who warned of a slippery slope were, indeed, correct.

Don't get me wrong - I don't smoke and don't like inhaling it, second-hand or otherwise. I find it to be a vile practice and hate that too many smokers believe the entire world is their ashtray so they leave their butts everywhere. I've known polite smokers (whom I appreciate) and rude ones. I believe much of the problems with smoking and the desire for smoking bans relates more to a lack of manners than anything else.

I don't have a problem with a private business - even one open to public accommodation - making their business smoke-free. And I don't have a problem with a local government deciding that their office buildings and work environment will be smoke-free.

What I do have a problem with is the imposition, through the force of government, of someone else's choice on me and others, even when it is one I agree with.

Because I didn't like the smell of smoke and the way it lingered on my clothes and in my hair, I didn't go to bars. I made a choice based upon my own wants to not subject myself to such an environment. There were plenty of others who chose differently, as is their option in a free society.

But along came the busybodies - people who decided they knew better than the rest of us - who pushed to have their non-smoking preference mandated and enforced by government through threat of criminal sanctions.

And, not surprisingly, there were plenty of politicians and newspaper editorial boards (who also hand out endorsements to the politicians) ready to jump on the bandwagon to exercise control over what should have been handled by a free market and a private property owner's business decision-making.

Yes - I do believe that a free-market solution existed. I do believe that increasing amounts of non-smokers would have influenced the decisions of business owners to make their establishments smoke-free. And while it might have resulting in some places being completely smoke-free while others were not, this is the path I would have chosen. People could then patronize only those places that served their interests - as it should be in a free market.

But just when others were beginning to think along the same lines, "for the children' comes along - and no one wants to be (gasp!) against children!

So now we have more busybodies pushing towns to outlaw smoking outside to "protect children from the effects of secondhand smoke" and preserve "green spaces as a model for a healthy lifestyle." See? They obviously know better than you do.

But do they?

Supporters of outdoor smoking bans will point to studies that say any exposure to smoke is harmful, especially to people with certain conditions like asthma or other breathing issues.

But one of the studies referenced by many groups, has details that aren't always shared by smoking ban supporters.

"We were surprised to discover that being within a few feet of a smoker outdoors may expose you to air pollution levels that are comparable, on average, to indoor levels that we measured in previous studies of homes and taverns," said Wayne Ott, professor (consulting) of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and co-author of the JAWMA study. "For example, if you're at a sidewalk café, and you sit within 18 inches of a person who smokes two cigarettes over the course of an hour, your exposure to secondhand smoke could be the same as if you sat one hour inside a tavern with smokers. Based on our findings, a child in close proximity to adult smokers at a backyard party also could receive substantial exposure to secondhand smoke."

Unlike indoor tobacco smoke, which can persist for hours, the researchers found that outdoor smoke disappears rapidly when a cigarette is extinguished. "Our data also show that if you move about six feet away from an outdoor smoker, your exposure levels are much lower," Klepeis added.

"...outdoor smoke disappears rapidly..."
"...if you move about six feet away from an outdoor smoker..."

These are the two points rarely mentioned by outdoor smoking ban supporters.

So if you're outside at a park and there is a smoker there, just move away from him. Or, if the smoker is upwind of the playground equipment, politely ask if they wouldn't mind moving to a downwind position.

As I've found most smokers respond well to being asked politely to accommodate others, common courtesy - from both the smoker and the requesster - could easily address outdoor smoking and (gasp!) without the involvement of government. See how easy that is?

There are costs associated with making a law to ban smoking in public parks. Legal fees and advertising costs to adopt and publicize a new law could be a challenge for some towns, especially smaller ones or those that have budget problems.

Never fear, though. In the time-proven approach, the Mountville supporters of the smoking ban are perfectly willing to accept incrementalism:

At the very least, she (Trout) said municipalities could look at establishing designated smoking areas that are not near areas where children play.

Just like with restaurants, they'll start with designated smoking areas and then keep moving the ball down the field. And after they get this law, they will find that further protection of the children is necessary. 'We've done so much to protect children in public, but the real problem is what they're exposed to in private,' they'll say.

Think about it - who brings children to the park? Their parents. And if the child's parents don't smoke, it's likely that they'll be exposed to smoke from the parents of their friends and neighbors.

So what is a nanny state supposed to do? Well, ban smoking at home, of course. It's already being supported and suggested by individuals in the U.S, as well as by publications from the National Institutes of Health. After all, it's "for the children."

Let's not forget Obamacare, either. When the government controls your health care, they'll control your health habits, as well.

To a nanny state, and increasingly to people within the nanny state, this makes perfect sense. If the government (taxpayer) is going to cover the costs of your medical treatments, they have every 'right' to tell you how to live and what things you are allowed to do to reduce the costs of your care - costs that everyone (well, taxpayers) are covering.

And since government is all about a one-size-fits-all approach, banning unhealthy behavior is clearly the best way to go about regulating medical costs.

Yes, this is a slippery slope.

My solution would be easier and wouldn't result in an erosion of liberty for everyone: don't cover the health costs of anyone and they'll be more likely to be responsible in their health choices and/or be willing to suffer the consequences of bad decisions. See how easy that is? And it's so much better and cheaper than creating a law to ban anything and everything that might cause one (or some) people harm while not impacting others.

But the goal in these efforts is NOT freedom.

Sadly, too many Americans just don't understand the slope they're on.


The Frizzy Hooker said...

When I saw the title of your post, I thought: "When will it stop!!!"

skeeter1107 said...

Be vigilant people!

It's the nature of conservatives to leave people alone. In my lifetime I've seen a society where people stayed out of other people's business. It was just common sense and no one's business. But times are different now.

We can no longer take for granted that people will leave you alone. No, unfortunately we have to always be aware that in the times we live, there are people that can come up with the dumbest ideas....and get them into law.

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