Public Health

Startling New Finding: Smoke Is Thicker Near Smokers

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A new study using "five types of real-time airborne particle monitoring devices" indicates that people who stand near and downwind from smokers in outdoor settings may be exposed to levels of combustion products similar to those seen indoors, except that the pollutants disappear as soon as the smoking stops. The levels measured by air monitors that were upwind or more than two meters away, by contrast, "approached zero." Since the researchers conclude that "it is possible for OTS [outdoor tobacco smoke] to present a nuisance or hazard under certain conditions of wind and smoker proximity," the study no doubt will be cited by supporters of outdoor smoking bans. But as Michael Siegel notes, the study could just as well be cited by opponents of such bans, since it shows that exposure to outdoor tobacco smoke is negligible unless you're planted right near (and downwind from) a smoker. From this Siegel concludes that outdoor smoking bans are justified only in locations where people may be stuck close to smokers, such as in stadium seating (although it seems like segregation of smokers would also work in such settings). He proposes this criterion for deciding whether a smoking ban is reasonable: "Are nonsmokers easily able to avoid the smoke by moving away from smokers?"

While I agree with Siegel that sweeping outdoor smoking bans, such as the one in Calabasas, California, are hard to justify, at least many of the locations they cover (sidewalks and streets, for example) are public property, which means the government has to pick some rule, whether it bans smoking in certain places, bans it entirely, or permits it everywhere. On private property, by contrast, there is no need for the government to get involved, since the smoke is confined to a particular location that no one is forced to enter. The concentration of tobacco smoke may be higher in a bar or restaurant than it is on a city street, but it is easily avoidable. By Siegel's standard, then, indoor smoking bans on private property (which he supports) are harder to justify than outdoor bans. 

NEXT: Newt Gingrich: Protect the world "not only for future generations of human beings, but for all living things."

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  1. Also found in the study:

    Hot air rises, cold air sinks.

    Fluids move from high pressure regions to low pressure regions.

    Navier-Stokes equations look funny, and are hard to solve.

  2. “it is possible for OTS [outdoor tobacco smoke] to present a nuisance or hazard under certain conditions of wind and smoker proximity,”

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fear.

    “Are nonsmokers easily able to avoid the smoke by moving away from smokers?”

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fewer.

  3. I know this might be a trifle naive, but couldn’t much of this be handled by etiquette? For example:

    If two people are standing at a bus stop and one of them lights up, the smoker should move downwind. If a smoker is sharing a bus shelter with non-smokers, he should step outside to enjoy his coffin nail. One could offer the traditional “mind if I smoke?” in hopes of getting the assent of one’s fellows, who might take pity on you and not exile you to the wind, rain and snow.

    (Lighting a ciggy is recognized by the Transit Gods as a cromulent sacrifice that will persuade them to speed the arrival of the next bus or train, forcing the supplicant to snuff his fag before he can finish it. This only works if you aren’t trying to appease the god, of course.)

    I used to enjoy the smell of cigar smoke at baseball and football games when I was a kid. That, like the smell of burning leaves in autumn, has been regulated out of existence. I never took up cigarettes, BTW. Seems those “smoking is bad, `mkay?” TV ads that ran opposite the ones for Pall Mall and Winston worked on me.

    Neither of my parents smoked. There was no smoking at my elementary school, and the only smoking allowed at my high school was out-of-doors, or in a lounge that only the Seniors had the privilege of visiting. You couldn’t smoke in a church, a library or the main section of a theatre. Some theatres had smoking sections, usually the balcony, where kids weren’t allowed. Where smoking was banned it was often due to fire risk, such as in bookstores.

    I really can’t think of too many places I would go as a kid, or that my parents would take me, where smokers had free rein to light up. Every now and then I found myself in a restaurant or store near someone puffing away, but that was unusual.

    Now, you may object that I am neglecting all the adults who find themselves in smoky environments. Well, they are adults, and can presumably look out for themselves. Don’t like smoky places? Don’t go to them. Smokers, if you don’t want to be treated like pariahs, be polite about your habit.

    Simple, right?

    Kevin

  4. NOT ONLY WAS THAT NAIVE, IT WAS FAR TOO LATE.

    PUNISHMENT:
    WHENEVER YOU ARE WAITING AT A BUS STOP YOU MUST ASK YOUR FELLOW BUS RIDERS “MIND IF I SMOKE?” SINCE YOU DO NOT SMOKE, YOU MUST ALWAYS ANSWER “GOOD TO KNOW,” AND JUST STAND THERE.

  5. I knew even before scrolling down, kevrob, that you were sure to invoke the wrath of Urkobold.

    OK, who’s worse – assholes who are too fastidious to ask people not to smoke, or assholes who interpret such requests as personal insults. These idiots are the ones we have to thank for laws like “Can’t smoke in your car with children present” and “Can’t smoke in your own apartment”.

    Common sense is dead. Assholes.

  6. RON PAUL is a non-smoker but would never support government control over individual property rights. Join the revolution!

  7. Just wait until they do a study on secondhand smoke entering the water table.

    Then, we smokers, are all screwed…

  8. RON PAUL is a non-smoker but would never support government control over individual property rights.

    Except for that little annoyance about supporting government control over who I employ on or with my property…

    Nonetheless, I concur that he’s the best Republican or Democrat in the field.

  9. No one is “forced to enter” any bar or restaurant. They are like private homes.

  10. No one is “forced to enter” any bar or restaurant. They are like private homes.

    To my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet, but wait until some local neighborhood homeowners’ association decides that people can’t smoke in their front yards – or that the neighborhood should be smoke-free.

  11. No one is “forced to enter” any bar or restaurant. They are like private homes.

    You are half right. But you need a license to open a restaurant and sell food, another one to sell alcohol, you need to withhold taxes to hire people, and so on and on. Some of these laws and regulations are legitimate government functions and some aren’t. A bar is not like a private home.

  12. Mebbe so, z, but most of us here are full-bore free market types who don’t think the government should require such licenses. I think getting certification from relevant professional groups and plenty of insurance would be wise, but begging for permission to be allowed to make a living? Not so much.

    Kevin

  13. There is not a single law or regulation which you would consider a legitimate government function?

  14. There is not a single law or regulation which you would consider a legitimate government function? – z

    Whoa, z. I’m pretty much a minarchist, as opposed to an anarchist. I’m cool with outlawing crimes of violence (or its threat,) theft and fraud – anything where an action of A violates the rights of B. Some of those infractions should be dealt with via criminal law, some civilly. In the case of opening a bar, the state should leave me alone until my place becomes a nuisance to my neighbors.

    Kevin

  15. The government should not have the power to dictate what you can to on or with your own property, as long as you do not infringe on the rights of others.

    But it sneaks around this constitutional limitation frequently. If you want to open a restaurant, you must have a license and that license “empowers” the government to control your actions.

    In Texas, If you want to sell alcohol, you need another license, and when you sign the application, you surrender your rights to property and privacy–By consenting in advance to warrantless search and seizure by armed beurocrats.

    Nanny staters a sneaky…

  16. *The comment that follows is satire*

    WHAT? I’m not brathing smoke if I’m upwind from a smoker? Thank you for the groundbreaking study! B-b-but what if Mr. Smoker is smoking in his backyard on a beautiful spring morning and the horrible, toxic, killer smoke is wafting thru my open windows!? Can’t the government protect my pure pristine lungs? I would surely DIE of lung cancer because I could not move out of harms way! What gives my neighbor the right to put my life in danger!? All I can do is drive my SUV down to the courthouse and file a complaint!

    *I repeat, this comment is satire. In the event of an actual comment, I would sound like a knee jerk Liberal douchenozzle*

  17. Correction: I would NOT sound like…

  18. Yet another attack by Reason on communities’ rights to decide on their own set of rules.

  19. Dan T.

    Do you believe that minority opinions deserve any protection?

    I mean Jim Crow was a community standard that was widely supported, in the respective communities. I know its an extreme example but…

    A less extreme example might be a community deeming your property “blighted” and seizing it, err I mean helping you to sell it to them.

    In US history did your teacher go straight from Federalist 9 to 11?

  20. Dan T.

    Do you believe that minority opinions deserve any protection?

    I mean Jim Crow was a community standard that was widely supported, in the respective communities. I know its an extreme example but…

    My basic feeling is that, with the exception of basic human rights, communities should have the ability to decide for themselves the rules under which people should live.

    I would not be in favor of a national ban on smoking. But towns, cities, and even states banning or restricting smoking does not bother me.

    After all, if you like to smoke, you’d be free to move to a community that allows smoking.

  21. “After all, if you like to smoke, you’d be free to move to a community that allows smoking.”

    And if you don’t like to smoke, you’d be just as free to move to a community that does not allow smoking.

  22. Yet another attack by Reason on communities’ rights to decide on their own set of rules.

    Communities have power, not rights, Dan.

    And what did you expect from a website devoted to individualism, anyway.

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