Ban smoking in parks, new health report urges
Hong Kong, New York and Toronto have all banned smoking in their green spaces. Now London could be about to follow suit. But is preventing people from lighting up outdoors unfair?
‘Outrageous,’ declared the pro-smoking lobby group Forest after hearing the proposals this week to ban smoking in London's parks and squares. ‘The next thing you know we’ll be banned from smoking in our own gardens.’
But the authors of a reviewcommissioned by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, argue the measures would turn parks into ‘beacons of health’.
Around 1.2 million Londoners smoke and the London Health Commission claims 67 school children take up the habit every day. Making the capital’s most famous landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and the city’s parks smoke-free, could reduce the harm smoking causes.
Councils throughout England have also begun to think about adopting the proposals. If the entire country followed the report’s recommendation, it would be the biggest crackdown on smoking since 2007, when it was banned in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed spaces.
There is a strong public-health case for banning smoking indoors, but the case for banning it outdoors is far weaker, and there is fierce debate over the extent of the risk from passive smoking.
Smoking is already banned in parks in a number of global cities, including New York, Toronto and Hong Kong. London has 20,000 acres of park and open space, covering almost 40% of the city — more than any other capital in the world. If the ban was brought in, huge swathes of London would become no-go areas for smoking.
And while the UK's parks stir up great pride and passion, so to, it seems, does individual liberty. As Boris Johnson remarked, ‘one of the glories of London is that we are generally pretty laissez-faire about how people live their lives’ — an argument even some non-smokers agree with.
Clearing the air
The parks belong to all of us and they must remain that way, some cry. Smokers have just as much right to enjoy the parks as anyone else – without being prevented from enjoying their habit. Air pollution from vehicles does more to damage health than lighting up and the evidence to suggest an outdoor ban will be effective is patchy. This is a serious attack on personal freedom – a slippery slope on the path to banning smoking altogether. Ultimately it would be a ban driven by an irrational and unjust hatred of smokers.
But others say we would be prouder of our parks and public spaces if they were cleaner. Experts believe people would find it easier to give up smoking and fewer children would start, if there weren't visual reminders of the habit. Nobody’s liberty should take precedence over protecting another person’s health. Besides, the freedom argument is flawed, because a person’s freedom should never include the freedom to self-harm or harm others.
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Some People Say...
“If you don’t like the smell, walk away.’Simon Clark, Forest”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t smoke, so does this affect me?
- Yes, it does. It’s great that you don’t smoke, but non-smokers are affected by the smoke of others around them - this is known as passive smoking. There is a balance to be struck in ensuring that smokers aren’t treated unfairly, while protecting the health of those who abhor the habit.
- If smoking is so bad, why not just ban it altogether?
- An interesting point, but probably unworkable. Some say that if the government was really serious about the health effects of smoking, it would ban it in the home. Yet when this was attempted a few years ago in Maryland, US, it prompted global ridicule, and was scrapped. There are more than 10 million smokers in the UK, and politicians would be very wary of implementing such a controversial measure.
- The report by London’s Health Commission also claims that half of all adults in London are obese or overweight — a higher figure than in New York, Sydney, Madrid, Toronto and Paris. A range of measures, including preventing junk food outlets from opening near schools, were also put forward.
- Researchers at Stanford University found that levels of tobacco smoke within three feet of a smoker outside are just as high as levels indoors. Yet others argue that smoke quickly disperses in the open air.
- The doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of others. The phrase is also used to describe an environment where people are free to choose their own course without interference, and in economics where governments do not interfere in the workings of the free market, for example, by excessive regulation.
- The British philosopher John Stuart Mill argued in his discussion of personal freedom ‘On Liberty’ that ‘the principle of freedom cannot require that the person be free not to be free’ — i.e., a person should not be free to sell themselves into slavery, for example.