|Essay type:||Argumentative essays|
|Categories:||Public health Substance abuse Social issue|
Over the years, smoking has been considered to be an unhealthy behavior due to the risk of heart diseases, stroke and cancer associated with it. Not only is the smoker exposed to these risks but also those people nearby, who inhale secondhand smoke. In this regard, countries globally are increasingly deliberating introducing policies aimed at minimizing or preventing the exposure of people to cigarette smoke in public areas. Conversely, from the perspective of a free society, cigarette smoking is an acceptable choice granted the smoker does not harm other people passively. Similarly, smoking passively is also a choice since people can opt not to be within areas designated as smoking zones. As such, the issue of whether prohibiting smoking, especially in public spaces, would protect people from the health risks caused by tobacco has been subject to intense debate. This paper advances the claim even though secondhand smoke outdoor public spaces may not harm people, public smoking should be banned since it reduces people’s exposure to tobacco smoke, promotes behavioral changes through the denormalisation of smoking and reduces medical and economic costs associated with smoking.
Before exploring evidence to advance the above claim, it is imperative to understand the basis of arguments on why smoking in public areas should not be banned. In principle, the criticisms against this banning revolve around the idea that smoking in public does not necessarily expose people to harmful levels of tobacco smoke. Chapman (2008) revealed that secondhand smoke in public areas is weakened rapidly. This finding does not, however, apply to individuals within 0.5 meters of multiple smokers since the incremental 24-hour smoke exposure to such individuals exceeds the exposure limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nonetheless, Chapman (2008) argued that multiple smokers rarely sit or stand close to non-smokers in public places at the same time, which implies that the exposure of people to tobacco smoke in public cannot surpass the EPA 24-hour limits. Therefore, Chapman (2008) concluded that since people are unlikely to be exposed to toxic secondhand smoke in public, banning it violates people’s rights to make choices provided they do not harm others.
On the contrary, evidence from empirical research reveals that banning smoking in public areas lowers people’s exposure to tobacco smoke. Nanninga et al. (2018) studied how public smoking prohibitions affected the exposure to cigarette smoke on children. This study utilized a meta-analysis approach, where 15 reports on children’s exposure to secondhand smoke before and after the enforcement of public smoking prohibitions were searched and retrieved from electronic databases. The relative risk calculated from these reports was summarized into two main groups, whereby 14 used measurements of exposure levels from parental reports while 1 used measurements confirmed by nicotine concentrations. The findings from these measurements indicated generally that the exposure to secondhand smoke on children at home reduced significantly following the prohibition of public smoking. Out of the 15 reports, only two reports showed an increased relative risk after public smoking bans, with just one of these two reports presenting weighty findings (Nanninga et al., 2018).
Moreover, the patterns of exposure to secondhand smoke in the US show a steady decrease in the past 30 years (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). To study this exposure pattern, CDC (2018) tested the concentration of cotinine in blood, urine and saliva samples collected from Americans within the periods 1988-1991, 2007-2008, and 2011-2012. For the 1988-1991 samples, the test results revealed that nearly 87.9% of the non-smokers had significant cotinine concentrations. The fraction of non-smokers with cotinine reduced to 40.1% in the 2007-2008 samples and 25.3% in the 2011-2012 samples (CDC, 2018). This constant decrease in exposure to secondhand smoke was due to the rising number of states that enacted regulations to prohibit smoking in public spaces such as casinos, nightclubs, eateries, and workplaces. Moreover, CDC (2018) noted that this decrease was also attributed to the increasing number of homes with voluntary bans on smoking, which substantiates further the claim that smoking should be banned in both indoor and outdoor public settings.
Another justification for banning public smoking is the likelihood of behavioral changes, whereby people will be compelled to make healthy lifestyle choices. Mundasad (2015) maintained that bans on public smoking reduce the possibility of people, particularly the youth, seeing others smoking. As such, these youths will not consider smoking as the norm. Similarly, Pierce et al. (2012) purported that enacting robust antismoking laws in public places such as hotels and parks facilitates the denormalization of cigarettes in societies. Consequently, young people are less likely to smoke tobacco when they become adults. Extending antismoking legislation to recreational facilities allows people to enjoy the ambiance and clean air in these facilities, which contributes to fostering healthy living. A similar outcome would be observed in the household setting as well. For this reason, Pierce et al. (2012) concluded that the enforcement of smoke-free laws in public areas has led to the adoption of antismoking laws in homes voluntarily. In this regard, parents quit their smoking behaviors, thereby also preventing their children from getting initiated into smoking. A case in point is Australia, whose government banned public smoking in the 1990s, which extended to workplaces and homes. Pierce et al. (2012) argued that by 2008, this ban had already influenced 96% of the Australian people. Additionally, smoking rates among Australian children aged between 12 and years also reduced from 26% in 1996 to 10% in 2008. Such outcomes provide further rationale for implementing smoke-free laws in public spaces.
Lastly, from an economic perspective, prohibiting public smoking reduces the healthcare costs associated with active and passive smoking. On average, Rutherford (2009) stated that smokers incur $1500 annually for cigarettes alone. Moreover, smokers are also likely to incur medical-related costs since tobacco smoke weakens their health. In Europe, for instance, treating diseases caused by smoking, the ensuing loss of productivity and early mortality cost the European economy about €544 billion annually (Rutherford, 2009). For individual smokers, they are likely to incur higher hospital bills and higher health and life insurance costs. The state or local authorities also have to use more taxpayers’ money in cleaning, maintaining and beautifying streets and public spaces that are littered with cigarette remains. Banning public smoking would minimize the number of active smokers significantly. Consequently, these hidden costs, economic losses and medical costs would also reduce, thereby saving healthcare and taxpayers’ money to finance important public services.
This paper has demystified the issue of banning public smoking and, particularly, argued in support of the need to ban smoking in public spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Critics of antismoking laws in public spaces often purport that secondhand smoke in public spaces may not harm people and, thus, these laws deny people of the right to smoke provided they do not expose others to tobacco smoke. However, empirical findings indicate that people near active smokers in public places are likely to smoke passively. Banning smoking in these areas reduces people’s exposure to tobacco smoke. Besides, this ban also promotes behavioral changes through the denormalization of smoking, thereby preventing children from learning to smoke from their parents. Also, prohibiting public smoking reduces smoking-related costs in healthcare and economic activities. With these reasons in mind, this paper, therefore, maintains the position that authorities globally should enact smoke-free laws in public spaces.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/index.htm
Chapman, S. (2008). Should smoking in outside public spaces be banned? No. BMJ, 337, a2804. https://www.bmj.com/bmj/sectionpdf/186104?path=/bmj/338/7686/Head_to_Head.full.pdf
Mundasad, S. (2015). Dispute over outdoor smoking ban call. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-31602414
Nanninga, S., Lhachimi, S. K., & Bolte, G. (2018). Impact of public smoking bans on children’s exposure to tobacco smoke at home: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC public health, 18(1), 749. https://d-nb.info/1165641488/34
Pierce, J. P., White, V. M., & Emery, S. L. (2012). What public health strategies are needed to reduce smoking initiation? Tobacco Control, 21(2), 258-264. https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/21/2/258.full.pdf
Rutherford, J. (2009). 5 reasons to ban smoking in public places. Richmond Register. https://www.richmondregister.com/news/lifestyles/5-reasons-to-ban-smoking-in-public-places/article_f0830ffb-2986-5232-99aa-c77c61a2fb01.html
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