Inside, Outside, Upside Down: Smoking Bans on Public Property

On the op-ed page of today's New York Times, Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel argues that outdoor smoking bans like the one that takes effect in New York City on May 23 are unreasonable and may provoke "a backlash that could undermine the basic goals of the antismoking movement." Siegel, a longtime advocate of smoking bans in workplaces (including bars and restaurants), says the scientific case for preventing people from lighting up in outdoor settings such as parks or beaches is "much weaker":

Not only can people move around and thus avoid intense exposure, but smoke quickly disperses in the open air.

True, there is evidence that being near someone smoking, even outdoors, can result in significant secondhand smoke exposure. Researchers at Stanford found that levels of tobacco smoke within three feet of a smoker outside are comparable to inside levels. But no evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure —in places where people can move freely about—is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

Siegel faults anti-smoking activists and public health officials for exaggerating the risks posed by transient exposure to tobacco smoke:

Last year the surgeon general's office claimed that "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack," and that "inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer."

However, the surgeon general’s statement conflates the temporary negative effects of secondhand smoke on the circulatory system, which have been shown to occur with short-term exposure, with heart disease, a process that requires repeated exposure and recurring damage to the coronary arteries. It also conflates one-time DNA damage, which occurs with any carcinogenic exposure, with cancer risk, which likewise generally requires repeated exposure.

Siegel worries that such hyperbole damages the scientific credibility of the anti-smoking movement, which seems to be driven by "unthinking hatred of tobacco smoke" rather than legitimate health concerns.

Siegel is right on all of these counts. But it seems to me that the moral case for banning smoking outdoors is stronger that the moral case for banning it in bars and restaurants, since the latter sort of ban involves private property. While the level of exposure is higher inside a bar than it is in a park, no one is forced to enter that bar, whether as a customer or as an employee, and no one but the owner is entitled to decide whether people may smoke there. Public property, by contrast, is owned jointly by taxpayers, the majority of whom may prefer that smoking be banned. Furthermore, public spaces such as Washington Square Park or City Hall are harder to avoid than businesses where smoking is allowed.

That does not necessarily mean a blanket ban is reasonable. To my mind, it is appropriate to restrict or ban smoking inside government buildings, both because exposure is higher and because people (such as jurors, litigants, or crime victims) may have no choice about being there, while banning it in a park seems excessive for the reasons Siegel suggests—and because outside is one of the few places where people are still allowed to smoke. Smokers are taxpayers too, and their interests should be accommodated on public property (which they partly own) unless doing so presents a serious nuisance or hazard to the rest of us. But on public property, the government has to set the rules, while on private property it has no business doing so.

Siegel, who in recent years has specialized in criticizing the excesses of his fellow anti-smoking activists, blogs about tobacco policy here. Last year I discussed the surgeon general's report to which he refers. In 2009 I noted the candid paternalism underlying New York's outdoor smoking ban. More on outdoor smoking bans here and here.

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  • Au H20||

    Sullum, you missed the best part: The statist fuck commentators on the New York Times talking about how great the ban is.

    Also, what are the odds of the hat tip system, and lack thereof (I mean, poor Johnny this morning) causing someone to go apeshit at a reason event (yes, this is a roundabout way of saying that if you were a gambling man, the smart money might be on me).

  • P. Kniss||

    The extraordinary thing that the ill-informed "public health advocates" shall never realize is that the case for banning smoking in parks is actually STRONGER than the case for banning it in bars and restaurants.

    One can so justify it by the question of externalities, which exist for the person in a public park or on a public sidewalk who chances upon a smoker or is downwind of one. Why, shucks, that's an externality. They didn't agree to it, and yet they are being "affected by it."

    Whereas, at least in a business, the business owner and customer are engaged in a voluntary contract for the customer's consent to be there, and it can be enclosed where it does not affect others besides the consenting few.

    Not that I favor smoking bans in parks, but I have made the case this way. The health nuts don't fall far from the tree; they all wrap themselves in the cloak of public health no matter the charge.

  • VE Gina ||

    You could also argue that the toxicity of cigarette butts makes outdoor locations more dangerous because of ingestion by children and animals.

  • ||

    person in a public park or on a public sidewalk who chances upon a smoker or is downwind of one

    When you go into public, you implicitly consent to expose yourself to all sorts of things you have no control over, such as other people who may be engaging in behavior that you don't like.

    Being in public, by its very definition, is saying "Externality me!"

  • rather||

    So, you don't mind watching a couple have sex in a park?

  • Au H20||

    Well, if that couple was you and Epi...

  • ||

    Only if they're smoking at the same time.

  • rather||

    Watching Italian foreplay causes blindness, cancer, and hives; I'm not that cruel

  • Comment Tater||

    I thought Epi and Shrike were Reason's smart couple.

  • ||

    By your reasoning and the unfortunate USSC considerations of the personhood of corporations, I shouldn't complain if I'm downwind of a nuclear power plant releasing "small" amounts of radiation into the air, nor should I feel entitled to place emission limits on said power plant.

    Newsflash: smoking isn't just behavior people don't like. It's not displaying Piss Christ for all to see. It's behavior that is generally inconsiderate and ignorant at best and toxic, wasteful, and reckless at worst. How many smokers have you seen who put their butts in a proper waste receptacle? How many have started forest fires or caught themselves on fire or been distracted while driving because they reached down to pick up a dropped cigarette? Some people (like me) are so sensitive to the chemicals in tobacco smoke that just walking past smokers huddled outside the doors of a restaurant or passing 50 feet downwind of a puff of smoke in a park is enough to give them a serious headache or asthmatic attack. (I won't even delve into the effects and prevalence of so-called third-hand smoke.) It's not as though tobacco smoke and the act of smoking tobacco is just annoying. It's also dangerous for all concerned and painful for many (nonsmokers included). Further, considering there are other methods of delivering the primary substance that provides the tobacco "high" (e-cigarettes) that don't negatively affect people nearly as much, I see no logical justification for people to smoke whole tobacco in the first place.

  • KDN||

    Personal preference is never logical to obnoxious statists or anti-smoking zealots (but I repeat myself). My fiancee's allergic to tree nuts, surely we should make it a crime to serve cashews in public places too. The residue and crumbs might get on the barstool after all, and someone might accidentally spittle some cashew containing saliva on her.

    I don't even smoke and find the entire persecution of smokers to be offensive. You people need to get over yourselves. If somebody's smoking is really that troublesome, speak up and ask them to put it out. All but the most irritable cunts will oblige. Try speaking up for a change rather than asking Uncle Fingers to preemptively fight all your battles.

  • bill||

    completely true, as a smoker I both make an effort to keep the butts in my pocket until i find a trashcan and would always move if someone said it was bothering them. if these anti smoking pricks would just ask us, we'd move, but when you go around our backs and ask the government to move us for you then people just get spiteful. honestly, I know smoking is bad for me and I don't blame you for lecturing me. I do blame you for trying to make me into a criminal.

    EG. university of arkansas(I go there) passed a smoke ban which sucks, prior to the ban they removed all the ashtrays and butt jars. without a place of disposal, everyone started littering then everyone bitched about the littering and now smoking carries up to a 500$ ticket. for a legal substance just because it gets stuck in the craw of people who believe its okay to fuck with someone for doing something they don't like because they know waaay better than them

  • ||

    It's behavior that is generally inconsiderate and ignorant at best and toxic, wasteful, and reckless at worst.

    Yawn. Your priggishness is noted.

    , I shouldn't complain if I'm downwind of a nuclear power plant releasing "small" amounts of radiation into the air, nor should I feel entitled to place emission limits on said power plant.

    As is your breathless hyperbole.

    Newsflash chief, you expose yourself to all sorts of less-than-ideal things when you step outside, not to mention having to tolerate your fellow man when he doesn't have your interests at heart. I suppose we should be happy that you only choose to screech about smoking.

    Your modern-day Temperance Leagues are tiresome, as are the are the prosthelytizing snake-handlers who inhabit them.

    We get it. You think smoking is icky and you'll tell anyone who will pretend to listen. Life's full of unpleasant experiences and if you and your ilk would just shut the fuck up and oppress each other instead of everyone else, we'd have one less of those experiences to deal with.

    Some people (like me) are so sensitive to the chemicals in tobacco smoke that just walking past smokers huddled outside the doors of a restaurant or passing 50 feet downwind of a puff of smoke in a park is enough to give them a serious headache or asthmatic attack.

    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE

  • Paul||

    Washington State attempts to roll back its drug war in a couple of small ways.

    OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are looking to ease Washington's strict smoking ban by allowing cigar and pipe smoking for a limited number of tobacco retailers.

    A key Senate committee approved a bill Thursday that would permit up to 100 cigar lounges and 500 retail tobacco shops to allow smoking. Cigarettes would still be banned.
  • ||

    Great. When will we be able to drink in strip clubs, or drink on stage when performing music?

    Eastern Washington, I am thankful for you helping preserve our gun rights, but this puritan no drinking in strip clubs shit has got to go!

  • ||

    It's like they want to force bachelor parties to Vancouver.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Brandi's FTW!

  • shep the herd & his brass band||

    nothing more puritan than a strip club.

  • Paul||

    Alcohol and boobies don't mix.

  • rather||

    what did you call the baby?

  • ||

    I wonder if the Lusty Lady would still be brightening 1st Ave with bad puns if they were allowed to serve alcohol.

    Also, and I will admit to not really getting the strip club concept in general, but if the chicks were suboptimal it seems like alcohol is the best solution for everyone.

  • Au H20||

    Never been to a Chipendales Dangy? What did you do for your friends bachlorette parties (which are, by the way, so much more terrifying than bachelor parties).

  • Paul||

    Maybe they smoked cigarettes and related to eachother.

  • ||

    I have actually not seen male strippers. It would probably be funny, but that's about it. Not judging anyone who's into seeing naked strangers, but I am more into seeing naked person-I-am-banging.

    (OK, thinking about male strippers brings up an awkward question: what happens with the junk? Does it flop around, and if so, is that painful? And I genuinely can't decide if it's weirder if there is tumescence or not.)

    You're right about bachelorette parties mostly sucking, though. If I have to drink out of another fucking penis straw...

  • Jim||

    If I have to drink out of another fucking penis straw...

    Oddly enough, I said that just this morning over breakfast.

  • Lord Googoo||

    For Dagny
    ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK

    www.dancingbear.com

  • Cherry Nightingale||

    PERHAPS BCUZ UR BREATH PUTS GERMS IN THE SNATCH

  • KDN||

    In Jersey we get around this ban by having BYOB strip clubs. Not only can you drink and watch naked chicks, but you can use the money you saved to buy more lap dances and cocaine for the after party. Win win!

  • ||

    I read an article in Seattle Magazine (can't find it online but their search is teh suck) about the cigar lounge at El Gaucho. It was only moderately douchey and actually noted that the employees like working there because they get great tips. Individuals choosing what kinds of jobs/working conditions they prefer! Amazing!

  • ||

    Oh. It was Seattle Met and is online here. The whole "cigarettes are tacky but cigars are ok" dichotomy is dumb, but it is a step in the right direction.

  • Paul||

    El Gaucho. I had a fun evening in their basement establishment... years ago. When I had a dollar to my name.

  • Tim||

    " If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a cigarette— forever."

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

  • Au H20||

    Best comment:

    "Tobacco smoking is lethal and second-hand smoke (even third-hand smoke) has also been scientifically proven to be hazardous to one's health. The convincing evidence has been around for decades, though it was suppressed for very long by the tobacco industry.

    That should be sufficient for government to find ways to further protect the public from this health problem.

    To restrict smoking further is the logical next step, and why not protect non-smokers from toxic fumes in public places such as parks and beaches?

    I applaud the mayor for this initiative that improves the quality of life in New York and may also enhance the public health."

    Can I get- this is how statist fucks think?

  • Au H20||

    Best comment:

    "Tobacco smoking is lethal and second-hand smoke (even third-hand smoke) has also been scientifically proven to be hazardous to one's health. The convincing evidence has been around for decades, though it was suppressed for very long by the tobacco industry.

    That should be sufficient for government to find ways to further protect the public from this health problem.

    To restrict smoking further is the logical next step, and why not protect non-smokers from toxic fumes in public places such as parks and beaches?

    I applaud the mayor for this initiative that improves the quality of life in New York and may also enhance the public health."

    Can I get- this is how statist fucks think?

  • Au H20||

    It was a comment so nice, I had to post it twice!

  • ||

    Blame the squirrels that run the H&R comment system!

  • ||

    No can do. They were outside on their smoke break.

  • T||

    Wait, what's third-hand smoke? I'd google it but I fear a pit of madness awaits me if I do.

  • shep the herd & his brass band||

    he tobacco smoke that gets trapped in furniture, clothes and other things.

  • reason readin female||

    Correction:
    The tobacco smell lingers in furniture, clothes and other things.

    Here's a mind-trip: The smell of your camp fire also lingers in everything. Run away!

  • shep the herd & his brass band||

    The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that breathing even a little secondhand smoke poses a risk to your health.

    Scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health.
    http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/.....heet7.html

  • ||

    (blows cloud of smoke into dipshit's face)

  • ||

    ...which is a typical, inconsiderate, offensive, immature, and frankly dangerous show of jackassery that contributes toward feelings of ill will toward smokers. Thank you for providing another reason to pass a law against smoking.

  • Libertarian Candidate for Prez||

    Fuck off, Slaver!

  • ||

    Holy shit. I thought you were just a joke poster, but no, you really are this fucking pompous. What an insufferable prude.

    I mean, you're like Rule 34 for anti-smoking.

  • cynical||

    There's no risk-free level of driving, so let's ban cars.

  • Warty||

    Quick, name an activty that's worth doing and is completely without risk. The only thing I can think of is jacking off. As usual.

  • Reformed Republican||

    You could sprain your wrist or shoot your eye out.

  • Warty||

    I'm also discounting the risk of friction burns.

  • Jay Coff||

    Plus, if you're a smoker, there's carcinogens in that shit.

  • Au H20||

    Jacking off is the number one cause of blindness in young men.

  • ||

    So Stevie Wonder can jack off all day? Some guys have all the luck.

  • shep the herd & his brass band||

    no, that's a Rod Stewart song

  • the real oo||

    hear about the teen who took viagra? 3d degree burns both hands

  • Michael Hutchence ||

    Sad face :(

  • Warty||

    Offdensen: Okay guys, I really, really don't want to promote autoerotic asphyxiation.
    Murderface: Gaah! Live a little bit!
    Offdensen: ...It's an embarrassing death. You always have to color it differently in the media.
    Murderface: I think it's an awesome death.
    Nathan: Fucking badass death!
    Toki: Yeah, it's better than blowing up in the Space Shuttle!

  • Michael Hutchence||

    Skwisgaar: Dis is… times travels face bag.
    Ofdensen: Time… travel… face bag, am I saying that right? Looks like you have uh, some plastic bags. What are you doing?
    Nathan: We’re traveling through time.
    Toki Wartooth: Yeah, you put the face bag on and travel through time!
    Murderface: Dear God! You, boy in the street! What day is it?
    Pickles: It is Wed...It’s Friday! It’s Friday!
    Murderface: I must have traveled through time itself!

  • sarcasmic||

    New York City is so behind the times.
    Here in Maine they already banned smoking in all public places.
    Now deer and moose are safe from second hand smoke since those dirty smokers can be arrested for lighting up in the woods.

  • Au H20||

    More from the comments:
    "Hogwash I say to Professor Siegel's argument that smoking in parks and on beaches should not be banned. He cites a lack of convincing scientific evidence for such a ban, but does not mention the need for common courtesy. If you're sitting on a park bench or beach chair and a smoker sits nearby up-wind from you, the smoke is offensive and inconsiderate. Period.

    For this reason, smoking should be banned in all places where the public gathers, indoors or out. Smokers should be free to kill themselves by smoking in the privacy of their own homes, cars, or backyards, but even there what are the rights of their children?

    In the 1800s controversial laws were passed to ban spitting on sidewalks. Spitters took great offense. Common courtesy won the day, however.

    It's time for common courtesy to win out over smoking in parks and on beaches.

    Earl B. Russell

    Professor Emeritus

    University of Nebraska-Lincoln"

  • Au H20||

    Clearly the New Times readership is unfamiliar with Ron Paul:

    "Cigarettes are as carcinogenic as asbestos and as addictive as cocaine. They should be banned completely nationwide for the same reason cocaine use is illegal, and we don't go around spreading asbestos everywhere."

  • Au H20||

    And one last one:

    "Seems to me the author is missing the larger point-- whether or not a link between second-hand outdoor smoke and negative health consequeces can be definitively proven, the non-smoking public has just as much a right to be free of smoke outdoors, as indoors, if not more.

    The unaddressed fact in this piece is the oft-neglected fact, in discussions like these, that cigarettes are both poisonous (and, to use a colloquial term, gross).

    Just because smokers may have no inhibitions about poisoning themselves, there's no reason why we should passively grant them the right to poison, or even annoy others, with cigarette smoke (not to mention the ubiquitous freely discarded cigarette butts). Especially in public spaces.

    Any non-smoker who has tried to enjoy a quiet drink outdoors at a bar or restaurant recently can attest to the perverse way in which the relative quality of air has been reversed over the past decade-- even as admirable legisaltive efforts have rendered indoor spaces cleaner, for some crazy reason we have at the same time allowed the outdoors to become more polluted.

    The whole notion that smoking has become a 'right' is sort of odd, when you think about it. Maybe we all have the right to make bad decisions, but my right to avoid the negative consequences of those decisions should be equally protected, if not more so."

  • ||

    a right

    I do not think that word means what you think it does.

  • the real oo||

    if only tobacco smoke was the biggest prob in the NYC parks ive been to

  • ||

    ""The whole notion that smoking has become a 'right' is sort of odd, when you think about it.""

    No more odd than the right to not be around smoke. Which isn't a right.

    The word that should be used is liberty. Smoking is a liberty. In the so called land of liberty, smoking wouldn't be banned execpt in private establisments where the owner has the liberty and/or the right to kick out patrons.

  • Really?||

    Any non-smoker who has tried to enjoy a quiet drink outdoors at a bar or restaurant recently can attest to the perverse way in which the relative quality of air has been reversed over the past decade

    And who the fuck's fault is that? I guess if you ban inside smoking, there will be more outdoor smoking. Ever pressed on a balloon?

  • cynical||

    Has he considered that ordering complete strangers around is widely considered discourteous and may be dealt with by a dissuasive percussion of the testes?

  • ||

    I miss going to bars and having a ciggie with my drink. Now I have to go to casinos to do that! True story here in Michigan.

  • ||

    Maybe you should consider seeking treatment for your addiction(s)?

  • tarran||

    I suggest you seek treatment for your personality disorder before you start lecturing others.

  • ¢||

    The only thing I can think of is jacking off.

    I've heard that a guy I sort of know gave himself a cock-endangering skin infection by performing an emergency pull-start at work. In a dentist's office.
    PLAUSIBLE

  • ||

    I'm much more concerned about the risk of skin cancer from getting sunburnt than the risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. They should block out the sun.

  • Coeus||

    That's because you're a rational individual with the ability to read past the headline of a news story. Unfortunatly, left-handness is more common among our population than that little quirk.

  • ||

    """Researchers at Stanford found that levels of tobacco smoke within three feet of a smoker outside are comparable to inside levels. ""

    I have to call bullshit on that. The wind would be a factor outside.

  • ||

    Yes it would - and unfortunately, you don't see smokers seeking out areas of higher wind to better dissipate their exhaled poison.

  • Rock Action ||

    Yes you do. I did all the time when I smoked.

  • ||

    For real?

    You don't need higher wind, pretty much any wind would do. And if you don't like them smoking there, no one is making you stay.

  • ||

    Although the anti gun crowd got so cocky about their absurd "science" and didn't know when to let it go that it blew up in their face, that will NEVER happen to us.

  • Nick||

    I just want to be able to smoke in bars again, its my liberty.

  • prolefeed||

    Smokers are taxpayers too, and their interests should be accommodated on public property (which they partly own)

    Oh, for fuck's sake. YOU are not the government. You do not own any of its property. You do not owe any of its debt. You are not responsible for the wars it wages, or for any of the abuses it commits.

    The government is an armed gang that steals your liberty and property. Unless you are employed by it and cooperate in this stuff, you are not part of the government.

    Explained that to my son a couple days ago, and he got that basic concept.

  •  ||

    D-

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