As a non-smoker, there’s nothing more irritating to me than having cigarette smoke blown directly into my face while out in public. Every time this happens, I can feel the toxic fumes forcefully entering my airways, damaging my lungs in the process. It makes me feel violated. It seems that common courtesy is a thing of the past. Yes, people do have a right to smoke cigarettes, but why should non-smokers have to suffer the consequences of someone else’s reckless choices?
It is a common misconception among smokers that their choice to smoke only affects themselves. When in actual fact, not only are they hurting themselves, but also the people around them and the environment.
Gory and graphic government-sponsored advertisements serve as constant reminders of the harmful effects of smoking. But it seems many people tend to underestimate the dangers of inhaling second-hand smoke, also known as “passive smoking”.
The Cancer Council reports that tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, including over 60 known carcinogens, which are exhaled and released into the air and atmosphere. When you unwillingly breathe in these toxic chemicals, you are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, amongst other fatal illnesses.
But this isn’t where the environmental impact of smoking stops. Pollution caused as a result of smoking is not only restricted to air, but also affects land and water. Nearly seven billion cigarette butts are not disposed of properly in Australia each year. It takes an average of 25 years for cigarette butts to completely decompose. This litter is eventually washed up into our harbours, beaches and rivers, poisoning marine life and contaminating water in the process. Cigarette manufacturing also uses up a lot of paper. In fact, 600 million trees are cut down per year to supply the tobacco industry.
I’m not writing to preach to people about why they should not smoke, that is entirely your choice as an individual. But once your choice starts infringing upon others’ rights, namely the right to breathe in clean air, is when it starts to become a problem.
One of the most effective solutions to prevent smoking hazards has been to enact anti-smoking regulations in public places. In 1994, the ACT became the first state to ban smoking in restaurants. The success of the ban became “a reference point to dispel industry scaremongering that the hospitality industry would face ruin because of smokers’ reduced dining.” The ACT ban set a precedent that saw six states move to ban smoking in restaurants. In recent times, many local councils such as Waverly and Parramatta have successfully implemented their own smoke-free environment policies.
Globally, smoking has been banned in most indoor public spaces including pubs, nightclubs, bars and even casinos. Countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Norway, and certain parts of the United States have also enacted comprehensive bans on smoking.
Smokers may argue that anti-smoking regulations violate their right to smoke, their “freedom of choice”. But I argue that this choice should also come with a responsibility to ensure others aren’t adversely affected by a smoker’s selfish actions.