Why you should care about smoking bans
    Photo by whiskeygonebad on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.

    Most of us remember D.A.R.E. and whatever goofy cartoons our elementary school teachers threw at us to persuade us that smoking was a bad idea. Many local governments across the nation are now taking the helm of the anti-smoking movement. Apparently, politicians think that talking cartoon monsters and diagrams of blackened lungs weren’t enough persuasion.

    Belmont, Calif., is the latest city to impose a smoking ban, one of the most stringent in the nation. When the law goes into effect in 14 months, it will ban smoking in multi-story complexes (apartment buildings), residences, workplaces, parks, stadiums and outdoor malls. Moreover, the law smacktalks smokers and calls the habit “a public nuisance” (oh, no they didn’t!). Even though the ban is typical of others in the nation, it’s the first to extend restrictions to individual apartment units.

    California continued their anti-smoking campaign on Wednesday with a ban on smoking in cars with children. Twenty other states are considering the same law, while two more (Arkansas and Louisiana) have already passed it.

    Chicago is in the midst of adjusting to a ban on smoking in all indoor places, including bars, malls, restaurants and taxis. The ban goes into full effect next July, so Chi-town smokers are trying to sneak in their last puffs before they’re forced outside into the cold. Even though the ban is widespread (hey, public indoor places are pretty much everywhere), it still doesn’t hold a candle to the apartment and car bans that are being passed now. With each year the smoking bans get more stringent; it’s only a matter of time before a city tries to ban it outright.

    Bans are a controversial issue and pro-smokers are fighting with fire. Some detractors of the Belmont ban sent e-mails to pro-ban legislators comparing them to Hitler and one even nonsensically threatened, “Your friends will get a 747 loaded with fuel.” The detractors’ main contention is that the bans curtail smokers’ rights (hence the Hitler thing), and that smokers should be allowed to smoke wherever, whenever the nicotine calls. Others argue that the ban places a financial burden on bars that can no longer cater to their smoking patrons. Smokersclub.com, an obviously pro-smoking site, has compiled this list of businesses that have been hit hard by bans.

    Smokers are already feeling pressure from increased taxes on cigarettes, since it seems like every new proposal is trying to be funded by a “sin tax” (the most recent biggie is SCHIP). Because smoking apparently relieves stress, they just end up smoking more in response to the taxes. It’s just a whole vicious cycle.

    On the other side are the health devotees, who are usually pretty tough to argue against (I mean, who’s going to vilify the old woman with lung cancer?). They maintain that reducing secondhand smoke in cities makes everyone healthier and that the bans can even motivate people to quit. ABC News reported that the bans do, in fact, help reduce cigarette sales by making it more difficult to smoke. Also, the bans raise the stigma of smoking, further pushing people to kick the habit. Another study showed that in San Francisco the number of heart attacks dropped six months after a smoking ban was put in effect.

    No matter what side you’re on, you could agree that smoking bans are becoming the norm and are passing with breakneck speed. They often pass with ease (Chicago has only had one dissenter) as cities race to be the next to clear its lungs. For smokers, that could mean either hitting the real estate market or looking for the patch (hint: the patch is a much cheaper option). But for non-smokers, these bans are almost universally good news. That is, unless your business is going under. Hey, at least you’re breathing easier.


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