Sunday, May 8, 2011

Battle Of The Bans: Bloomberg Is Only Extinguishing Civil Rights

Michael B. Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University's School of Public Health, offers practical wisdom in a Friday New York Times opinion piece about NYC's ludicrous outdoor smoking ban, beginning May 23. Note that Siegel has advocated against smoking indoors for 25 years—and yet he recognizes that Mayor Bloomberg's latest effort to extinguish civil liberties takes things too far.

Here's a condensed version of Siegel's thoughtful piece. Read the full text here:
While there is a strong public-health case for banning smoking indoors, the case for banning it outdoors is much weaker. For 25 years I have testified before court proceedings, city council meetings and Congressional hearings in support of smoking bans in workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos.

Inevitably, smoking-ban opponents ask me, “What’s next, banning smoking outdoors?” My answer has always been no: not only can people move around and avoid intense exposure, but smoke quickly disperses in the open air. No evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

But that hasn’t stopped many opponents of smoking. They argue that even transient exposure to tobacco smoke can cause severe health effects like heart disease and lung cancer. In trying to convince people that transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking opponents risk losing scientific credibility.

The anti-smoking movement has always fought with science on its side, but New York’s ban on outdoor smoking seems to fulfill its opponents’ charge that the movement is being driven instead by an unthinking hatred of tobacco smoke.

A ban on outdoor smoking may provide a symbolic victory. But from a public health perspective, it’s pointless. Instead, anti-smoking organizations should focus on extending workplace protections to the 100 million Americans still denied the right to work without having to breathe secondhand smoke.

In February 2011, The New York Times also published this intelligent editorial...
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg began his campaign against cigarette smoking eight years ago, most New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief. The great indoors all are now smoke-free by law, making New York City a healthier place.

But now the mayor and City Council have overreached. The council voted to ban smoking outdoors in city parks, beaches and even plazas, including in Times Square.

All of this takes the mayor’s nannying too far, even for those of us who want to avoid secondhand smoke. Meanwhile, there is talk that the mayor and the City Council want even more, like banning smoking near doors of office buildings and apartments. They need to take a deep breath and remember that we tried prohibition 90 years ago. They called it a noble experiment. It turned into a civic disaster.