Lawmakers in China Grove, North Carolina have imposed a ban on tobacco use in all government-owned buildings and parks.
The new ordinance, which took effect on November 3, applies to “any local government-owned building or park owned, leased, occupied, or operated by the Town of China Grove,” carrying a $50 fine for violations. The ban does not apply to e-cigarettes.
Slippery Slope Effect
Aeon Skoble, a professor of philosophy at Bridgewater State University, says lawmakers often feel an obligation to jump down the slippery slope of imposing bans for behavior they think is harmful.
“It’s a natural progression of the idea that government action is necessary to resolve all social problems,” Skoble said. “Indoor smoking bans lead to outdoor smoking bans.
“The problem is even though there’s some evidence that smoking creates dangerous levels of pollutants for nearby nonsmokers indoors, there’s much less reason to think that dispersed cigarette smoke outdoors is more harmful than, say, a passing truck,” Skoble said.
‘Unwarranted Moral Panic’
Skoble says living in New York City is probably a larger health risk than visiting a city park where outdoor smoking is legal.
“If you’re walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is the passerby with a cigarette really endangering your health in a way that the thousands of cars and trucks and buses aren’t?” Skoble said. “That’s an unwarranted moral panic, not a legitimate public health concern.”
Smoke and Sensibilities
Mitch Kokai, director of communications for the John Locke Foundation, says banning smoking in parks and other outdoor recreational areas is more about protecting people’s feelings than their health.
“It really comes down to an offense to some people’s sensibilities,” Kokai said. “Rather than put people through the horror of having to watch someone else smoke, these government leaders decide to go ahead and make it illegal to do so.”
Kokai says outdoor smoking bans often lead to more intrusive bans.
“I think you certainly see that it’s easier to contemplate those additional restrictions once you have some restrictions in place,” Kokai said. “Prohibition works in other areas of life, and I think those who are pushing for this overall goal of banning smoking are picking areas where it seems least objectionable and moving from there.”
Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.