Smoking should not be banned in wide open spaces

Morning View
Morning View

If Brighton decides to ban smoking on the beach, and if such a ban is repeated elsewhere, it looks like a small step on the road towards an overall smoking ban.

Smoking is an exceedingly dangerous habit. It is one of the most addictive drugs known to man, in terms of rates of recidivism among those who try to quit.

It has appalling health implications. Around half of long-term smokers die of consequences related to their tobacco intake.

As the Brighton officials proposing the ban have said, smoking causes a higher risk of respiratory infections, asthma, bacterial meningitis and cot death for children exposed to passive smoke.

But does that mean we need sweeping bans? An overall ban, for example, would at this point in history be a huge assault on people’s freedom of choice and would deny deep pleasure to a large proportion of humankind.

The strategy to combat smoking has been astonishingly successful in the western societies since evidence emerged in the 1950s of the devastating effects of tobacco. In countries such as Britain and America, less than 20 per cent of the adult population now smoke (when once it was more than half).

Now there is much better education of the ill effects, there is heavy taxation and there are tight controls on smoking in workplaces and indoor public areas.

But a beach is outdoors. A ban there becomes almost a ban on matters of taste (ie on the sight and example of a smoker).

It is also unclear if the ban in England and Wales on smoking in a car that is carrying children is of much health value.

There has been over-reach in Northern Ireland too, where some hospitals have banned smoking anywhere on their property. Is it sensible to refuse a smoker who is visiting a sick relative a cigarette outside the building?

The overall strategy for cutting smoking, of education and taxation and bans on smoking in indoor places where lots of people gather, has been successful. Widespread bans on outdoor smoking is a step too far.