The Candid Paternalism Underlying New York's Outdoor Smoking Ban


New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who wants to expand the city's smoking ban to cover parks and beaches, makes no bones about the fact that the goal is to save smokers from themselves. According to The New York Times, "Dr. Farley said the ban—which officials said may require the approval of the City Council, but could possibly be done through administrative rule-making by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation—was part of a broader strategy to further curb smoking rates, which have fallen in recent years." But others are still pretending that smoking bans are aimed at protecting innocent bystanders:

The mayor, who has championed antismoking programs but also is running for re-election, issued a statement that did not disavow the proposal but appeared to qualify it, saying he wanted "to see if smoking in parks has a negative impact on people's health."

He added, "It may not be logistically possible to enforce a ban across thousands of acres, but there may be areas within parks where restricting smoking can protect health."…

"The issues with secondhand smoke are very real, and the majority of the population today doesn't want to be breathing in tobacco smoke, whether indoors or outdoors," said Dr. David A. Kessler, who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 1990 to 1997. "While undoubtedly some will think this is going too far, 10 years from now, we'll look back and ask how could it have been otherwise."

Cheryl G. Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, the smoking prevention group that was created as part of the 1998 master settlement between the tobacco industry and 46 state governments, also applauded the proposal.

"There is no redeeming value in smoking at beaches or parks," she said in a statement. "Anyone who has sat behind someone smoking a stogie can tell you that. The health risks are real. Secondhand smoke is deadly."

If "secondhand smoke is deadly," how can "anyone who has sat behind someone smoking a stogie" tell us anything? Wouldn't he be dead? How did Healton herself manage to survive this harrowing experience?

The pretense that dose doesn't matter—that occasional whiffs of tobacco smoke in the open air are tantamount to a pack-a-day habit—nicely complements the pretense that smoking bans—whether on public or private property, inside our outside—are needed to protect the rights of nonsmokers. I think I prefer Farley's candid paternalism.

More on smoking bans here.