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Debate: Ban on smoking in public places

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Should smoking be banned in public places?

Background and context

For many years, governments have tried to reduce smoking by taxing tobacco, running advertising campaigns and putting warnings on packets. Recently, several countries have also restricted the areas in which people may smoke.
Most bans apply only to enclosed places (meaning inside buildings, e.g. shops, restaurants, bars, offices, theaters, trains, bus shelters etc). Smoking is banned in all or most enclosed public places in South Africa, New Zealand, Italy and the Republic of Ireland. There are similar bans in the American states of California and New York. Smoking in enclosed public places was recently banned in Scotland. It will become illegal in the rest of the UK in 2007. In England and Wales, pubs that do not serve food can continue to choose to allow smoking. Bans on smoking in public places in the open air (e.g. parks, streets) are less common. Smoking is banned in some streets in Tokyo (Japan). Smoking near the entrances of buildings is banned in some parts of Australia, Canada and the USA. The proposition must define this motion clearly. They must state whether they would ban smoking in all public places, or only in enclosed public places. They must also make it clear if there would be any major exceptions to the ban (e.g. pubs that do not serve food, private clubs open only to members). However, this debate often works best if the proposition do not introduce lots of exceptions.

Protecting non-smokers: Is a ban necessary to protect non-smokers?


  • Public smoking ban protects health of non-smokers Scientists have agreed that smoking is dangerous as tobacco smoke causes cancer, strokes and heart disease. Smoking does not just harm the smoker. It also harms people nearby, who breathe in the smoke. This kind of smoking is called passive smoking. Smokers choose to smoke, but people nearby do not choose to smoke passively. Most argue that people should only be exposed to harm if they understand the risks and choose to accept them. A complete ban on smoking in public is needed to protect people from passive smoking. Research suggests that partners of smokers have an increased chance of developing lung cancer, even if they do not use tobacco products. It is estimated that passive smoking kills approximately 80 000 people in the EU alone every year. (Brussels estimates that 15% of all deaths in the EU could be attributed to smoking.)
  • Public smoking ban protects rights of non-smokers. One's freedom to swing one's fist ends where someone else's nose begins. Similarly, the right to smoke ends exactly where it comes into conflict with the lungs, nasal pasages, and health of others. Public places are such a place. Therefore, in order to maintain the rights of non-smokers, smoking in public places should be banned.
  • Smokers can/should smoke in private places, not in public. Many smokers excuse their public smoking on the grounds that they don't have anywhere to smoke. However, there's their private property and homes. Why not smoke there?


Choice: Do victims of second-hand smoking have no choice?


  • Is it wrong to say that people choose to smoke passively: In many places, there are no non-smoking bars or restaurants. Unless people refuse to go out with friends who smoke, they cannot avoid passive smoking. People who work in smoky workplaces like bars often do not freely choose this and sometimes there are no other jobs are available for them. In most countries, safety standards do not allow workers to be exposed to unnecessary danger, even if they agree. Workers should not be exposed to other people’s smoke, since they may not have made a free choice to do so.


  • People can leave smoking areas to avoid harm. Society accepts that adults can decide to harm themselves to some extent, so long as they do not harm others. This is why the proposition is not arguing that people should be banned from smoking in private. Passive smokers do choose to breathe in other people’s smoke. If they do not want to smoke passively, they do not need to go to places where smoking is allowed. There is therefore no reason to ban smoking in public.
  • Workers are free to choose to quit a smoky, unhealthy working environment. Workers should be allowed to choose to work in dangerous conditions. This is accepted for jobs like mining, fishing and the armed forces. Individuals decide that they are better doing this work than not having a job at all.
  • Ventilation fans can remove most smoke (see below).
  • A complete ban is not necessary to give people a choice In places where no restaurants or bars have voluntarily chosen not to allow smoking laws that limit the number of restaurants and bars that can be smoking by issuing licenses on a first-come, first-serve basis could be passed in order to give people a choice rather than completely banning it.

Workers: Are workers in smoky public places being wronged?


  • Many workers can't simply quite an unhealthy, smoky work environment Opponents of a ban often argue that employees at smoking institutions can simply get another job at a non-smoking institution, and thus such workers are voluntarily subjecting themselves to being "passive smokers". Yet, are they really freely making this choice? Many supporters of a smoking ban posit that a job is not something that is easily replaceable. There are many factors that may limit a workers ability to freely shift jobs like 1)Job-markets are tight. 2)A worker's family depends on a worker's income from a job. 3)The time (and therefore money) required of an employee to find another job is limited. 4)Other job opportunities are less lucrative (frequently the case in service industries such as bars, clubs, and restaurants), and so the ability or reasoned-impetus to "choose" a different job is heavily constrained.
Thus, if a worker's ability to find a job at a non-smoking institution is constrained, their ability to "choose" is also constrained. With limitation to their ability to "choose", workers' inhalation of second-hand smoke becomes somewhat involuntary. They may very well know that their "passive smoking" is harmful to them and desire that things were otherwise, but calculating the limitations and constraints which I just said on their finding another job are too great, and so they bear "passively smoking" despite the personal harm. In this way, smoking in public places violates the liberties of the workers in these environments, who have no full recourse to alternative employment options.


  • Workers can choose to work at non-smoking institutions: It can be argued that, if a worker objects to inhaling second hand smoke involuntarily at their work place, that they can choose to work somewhere else. There are many careers that people choose to partake in that involve substantial risk or inherent bodily or mental harm or strain. These include:
  1. Military service.
  2. Coal-mining.
  3. Heavy labor jobs such as farming, moving, and heavy manufacturing.
  4. Sewage-cleaning.
  5. Sky-diving instruction.
  6. Certain monotonous desk-jobs can also be argued as mentally and physically damaging.
  • Smoky work environments are not different that other harmful lines of work. Various forms of physical, mental, tangible, and less tangible forms of harm are frequently involved in the jobs that workers choose to perform. Yet, these harms are often accepted as meaningful sacrifices that workers are free to take-up when they deem these harms to be outweighed by the benefits of such employment. As long as their ability is maitained to calculate such benefits and costs and make a free "choice" to stick with such a job, then the arrangement could be argued as just. If workers in smoke-filled environments are free to make such calculations of costs and benefits, then it can be argued that their arrangement is fair, and that cigarette bans in such public environments should not be required on this basis.

Odor: Is the odor of smoke unappealing?


  • A ban will get rid of the odor left by cigarette smoke. The annoyance extends to a level of intrusion when considering the fact that cigarette smoke has the tendency to linger in ones clothing and hair, making it more personally disruptive to non-smokers than say, loud laughter or the bad body oder of another patron. Because, in this way, the offense is particularly intrusive into the lives of non-smokers, it may even be possible to consider such intrusions to be violations of certain liberties of non-smokers.


Assisting quiting: Would a ban help smokers quit?


  • A smoking ban in public places alienates smokers and incentivizes quiting. A ban would encourage smokers to smoke less or give up. If smoking was banned in public places, it would no longer be a social activity. Instead, smokers would have to leave their friends inside and go outside to smoke. This would be particularly unpleasant when it is cold or wet. One third of smokers in Scotland said the ban was helping them to cut down. If smoking was a less social activity, fewer people would start smoking. In many countries, governments pay all or some of the cost of treating smoking-related diseases. This means that governments should have a right to discourage smoking.


  • The government shouldn't play the role of Big Brother with a smoking ban. Many groups argue that a government should not try and shape the social choices of its citizens toward desired social ends; people should be as free as possible to do what they want, as long as their actions don't violate the liberties of others. In this framework, governments should not intervene in the personal choice of a citizen to smoke - through a public places smoking ban - for any expressed purpose of affecting a "positive" change in that citizen's personal choices.

Smoking quantities: Would a smoking ban reduce smoking overall?


  • A smoking ban will cause people to smoke less overall. Smokers need to maintain a certain level of nicotine in their blood to remain content. A ban on smoking in public would force them to smoke less while at work. Over time, this would lower the level of nicotine they need to feel content. This would reduce how often they need to smoke. They would therefore smoke less at home, as well as less at work. Research suggests that in work places where smoking is banned, the proportion of daily smokers drops by 22% and their awerage consumption declines by 5 cigarettes per day.


  • Banning smoking in public would cause people to smoke more at home. Heavy smokers are unlikely to give up since they are addicted to nicotine. Banning smoking in public will, therefore, only encourage people to smoke more at home. This will harm other people in their houses, particularly children. This is important, since children are not old enough to choose freely to smoke passively. Also, people smoking at home may drink more alcohol than they would if they went to a bar. This is because they can buy it more cheaply at a supermarket or off-license. Drinking more alcohol may lead to other health problems.
  • It does not give the right incentives. The problem is that many teenagers start smoking due to peer pressure or when there already is a smoker in their family. If we make a "forbidden fruit" out of smoking, we are clearly giving the wrong incentives that are not going to help anybody to quit.

Businesses: Will a smoking ban be fair to businesses?


  • It is more important to protect people’s health than to protect businesses: Pubs and clubs should adapt, for example by trying to earn more money from selling food. After a ban was introduced in New South Wales (Australia), only 9% of restaurants reported a drop in trade.


  • A smoking ban would drive many bars and restaurants out of business. Smokers will not go to non-smoking places. The claim that more non-smokers will visit bars and restaurants has been proved to be untrue. These businesses would also earn less money from selling tobacco. In many places, pubs and Working Men’s Clubs are important social places for communities. The smoking ban in the UK has had a devastating effect on the pub trade.

Enforceable? - Would a smoking ban be enforceable?


  • Fines and penalties can ensure businesses comply with a ban: There have been few problems with bans where they have been introduced. Heavy fines put off companies from allowing people to smoke. A survey for the Scottish Executive found that 99.4% of premises were observing the ban three months after it was introduced.


  • It is impossible to police a ban in many public places: Small workplaces will often ignore the ban and are unlikely to be caught. Staff who do not smoke are unlikely to report smokers, in case their colleagues work out who told the authorities.
  • It is unreasonable. How the smokers can be efficient at work when they are addicted to nicotine, when a couple of cigarettes per day helps them to fulfil their tasks quickly and well?

Public opinion: Is banning smoking in public places popular?


  • Majority of Europeans support ban on smoking in public place. While 70% of Europeans are non-smokers, 86% are in favour of a ban on smoking at work, 84% in other public places, 61% in bars and pubs and 77% in restaurants. [1]


Pro/con resources




  • This House would ban smoking in all public places without exception
  • This House would ban smoking in public places
  • This House would ban smoking in enclosed public places
  • This House would stub out smoking in public places
  • That smoking should be made illegal in enclosed public spaces

In legislation, policy, and elsewhere in the real world

See also

External links and resources


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