There’s one — and only one — reason behind the ban: Mayor Bloomberg’s own fervid disapproval of smoking and his sanctimonious vow to “make it as difficult to smoke as we possibly can.” Or, as Councilwoman Gale Brewer rephrased it in an unexpected moment of nannyish candor: “Guess what? We don’t want you smoking!”
In other words, it’s pure social engineering — another attempt at bludgeoning smokers into quitting by making their lives “difficult.” When asked by reporters to justify the ban, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley referred to it exclusively as “part of a broader strategy to further curb smoking.” (No, not a whisper about the “danger” to innocent lungs.)
Still, it’s imperative to have a rationale for a policy not seen since the heyday of Jim Crow or the aftermath of Kristallnacht, so enter, once again, that incendiary bogeyman: secondhand smoke.
“Outdoors?” you may ask (and will ask with incredulity if you’ve still got a functioning brain cell in your head). And for an answer, the city will provide you with the study on which it rests its case. (Pedants, you may Google “Klepeis, N., 2007.”)
The results of that study? If you’re sitting downwind within 18 inches of the business end of a Marlboro, you’re breathing in smoke. As Homer (Simpson, I mean) would say: D’oh. But picture that, please. Eighteen inches! Practically mouth-to-mouth resuscitation! An unlikely proximity, especially for anyone who’s terrified of smoke and who’d sensibly move away.
And there’s plenty of “away” in Coney Island or Central Park.
In fact, the study states, if you’re six feet away, you’re entirely out of range of the last limpid molecule of anything in the smoke. And, in any case, breathing in a few whiffs of smoke doesn’t mean that you’re being harmed. All smoke being equal (and believe it or not, it is), you’re equally exposed to almost all of the same chemicals in secondhand smoke when you’re walking past a car, standing near a stove, or dining at a table with romantically glowing candles. And guess what? You’re still here.
To whatever extent the public has been happy to go along with this ritualized hysteria, it’s simply the result of a decades-long barrage of anti-smoking propaganda — a series of whoppers and hyped half-science defined by Jacob Sullum in Reason Magazine as “official hate speech sponsored by the state … aimed at encouraging the average citizen to loathe smokers.”
As New Yorkers, unfortunately, are just about to learn, the results of maintaining such irrational loathing will be no day at the beach.
Linda Stewart is a member of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.