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Should We Ban Smoking Outside?

New York is considering banning tobacco smoking in public places-part of a public health campaign called Take Care New York that, while a little...

New York is considering banning tobacco smoking in public places-part of a public health campaign called Take Care New York that, while a little autocratic-seeming, is actually pretty smart. California is the national leader on these kinds of things, banning smoking in all state parks and some beaches-which anyone who has ever laid down on a soggy cigarette butt knows is a good idea. There are a couple of arguments that work here. Let's look at them.The pollution argument. See image (and recall gross experiences at the beach) for back-up on this one. Sure, I have one friend who rubs out her cigarette on the bottom of her shoe then chucks it in a garbage can, but she's almost certainly the exception rather than the rule. Look no further than any gutter, or park, or beach for evidence of the fact that smoking equals littering. Banning smoking in public places would also curb the number of nonbiodegradable toxic filters that line our cities and green spaces.Then there's the second-hand smoke argument (which is unusually high for New Yorkers). This kind of smoke is of growing concern, and there's been a pretty depressing television campaign going in this city for a while about this. You can choose to smoke, but whomever you subject to your smoke (like your child, for example) doesn't get to make that same choice. Neither, the argument goes, does the couple making out one blanket over from you in Central Park.Finally, there's my favorite of them all: The preventative health argument. Whenever we prioritize reducing the behaviors that lead most directly to illness (like smoking, drinking soda instead of water for 30 years, that kind of thing), public health costs go down. Since bans tend to reduce the number of smokers, this type of ban could reduce it even further. Since New York banned smoking in restaurants, work places, and bars, the number of smokers has decreased pretty sharply. Still, if just 17 percent of adult New Yorkers smoke (down from almost 22 percent in the early part of this decade), that's almost a million people. So there's a way to go.The question remains: Do we want to pass more laws that limit the kind of things we can get into in public? Smokers and libertarians are bound to get upset about losing their rights, as are tobacco companies (duh)-and we know how well they campaign when they don't like certain laws.So will the law pass? Should it pass? What do you think?

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