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OPINION: Yes, smoking is bad, but smokers shouldn’t be demonized

Cigarette cartons for sale are seen in a convenience store in New York. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

One of Mayor Bloomberg’s most lasting legacies has been his crusade against tobacco use and cigarette smoking. Bloomberg was responsible for the law that banned cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants, doing away with the once-familiar “smoking” and “no-smoking” sections, as well as a similar law to ban smoking from public beaches and parks.

He also raised the cigarette-buying age from 18 to 21 and wanted to have cigarettes sold only “under the counter” in stores, although the latter idea proved a little too much. As if that weren’t enough, the Department of Health’s site contains advice on how landlords or co-op boards can make apartment buildings “smoke-free”: not just the common areas, but individual apartments, an idea that I feel dangerously infringes on individual freedom.

Before we go on, note that I have asthma. While it isn’t active now, it was serious for about 10 years, making me go to the emergency room once or twice a month and getting me admitted to the hospital on at least a dozen occasions. Of course, I’ve never smoked (outside of a two-week period when I smoked “little cigars” in high school). So I have the most to lose from being around second-hand smoke and smokers. And I personally am bewildered and repelled when I see young people in their twenties lighting up a cigarette, preparing to party like it’s 1955.
Yes, it’s true—smoking is dangerous to your health. There’s no doubt about it. The U.S. government proved it in 1964 with the release of the famous Surgeon General’s report. Even before that, a link between cancer and smoking had been suspected – witness the 1950s nickname for cigarettes, “cancer sticks.”

For awhile, in the 1960s and ’70s, the tobacco companies tried to get around this by selling low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, but neither the scientific community or the general public considered this a viable alternative. Later on, in 1992, a study was published that showed that second-hand smoke was responsible for 35,000 to 40,000 deaths per year in the early 1980s.

I support many of the anti-smoking laws—for example, the ban on smoking on beaches. Who wants to see old cigarette butts in the sand? I also can understand the rule prohibiting smoking in restaurants – if someone wants to smoke, they can take a break and stand outside.
But putting cigarettes under the counter? Consider this—ever since the 1960s, we’ve lived in a wide-open society. At various places in the city, you can buy specially “enhanced” condoms, magazines featuring photos of people using sex toys, fortified malt liquor, and all sorts of extremely unhealthy foods with little or no nutritional value. So, you mean to tell me you can sell all these things over the counter, but cigarettes only under the counter?

I fully support efforts to stop people from smoking. But so far, these efforts have mainly used negative images, such as showing a cross-section of a smoker’s lungs. These tactics will only increase resentment. They tell the smoker, “You are a foul and loathsome thing!” Instead, we should focus on positive messages, like “Did you know that if you stop smoking, it could add 10 years to your life?”

The effort to reduce smoking is a good one. But Mayor Bloomberg approaches the problem of smoking in the same heavy-handed way he approaches the problem of high crime rates in inner-city neighborhoods – by being authoritarian, by coercion. Let’s hope Mr. de Blasio can do better.

   

December 9, 2013 - 1:00pm


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