The Street Smokers of Edinburgh


Responding to complaints that smokers pushed outside by Scotland's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants are marring Edinburgh's historic beauty, Michael Siegel zeroes in on the dual justifications for such laws: While most people who support the bans just want to be rid of secondhand smoke, many activists push them to discourage smoking in general by making it less convenient and less socially acceptable. Rosemary Mann, an official of the Edinburgh Old Town Association, complains that smoking shelters outside pubs "are against the spirit of the legislation, which was meant to encourage people to stop smoking, not push them out to smoke on the streets." (Mann's dismay at people smoking on the the streets makes you wonder if she's ever been in a city with a smoking ban.) Siegel, who has long campaigned for bans on smoking in workplaces, says the "prohibitionist" goal of eliminating smoking altogether

undermines the entire public health nature of the debate over smoking bans. Frankly, if the issue were encouraging people to quit smoking, I would not be supporting smoking bans and I wouldn't have devoted the better part of my career so far to working for such laws.

The appropriate justification for smoking bans is to protect workers from secondhand smoke exposure, not to force smokers to quit. While there is evidence that smoking bans do encourage smoking cessation, this is clearly not the purpose of the law. It could be viewed as an added benefit to the law, but it in no way justifies the intrusion into the operation of businesses.

I would argue that a ban on smoking in a private business, even when the goal is to protect employees, is not truly a public health measure because secondhand smoke in a bar or restaurant is not imposed on the public at large in the way that toxins dumped into a river or emitted by a factory smokestack are: People can choose where they work and decide for themselves whether they're willing to put up with the smoke. Still, it's refreshing to see a longtime anti-smoking activist concede that smoking itself is not a public health issue.