Editorial: Ban on smokers not the way to go

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Photo / APN

Any proposal to restrict the areas in which smokers may legally indulge their cravings is guaranteed to ignite a fiery debate.

By and large, smokers accept, or at least endure, regular excise increases with a sort of glum resignation. But nothing is more calculated to raise the hackles of smokers (and non-smokers in response) than a renewed call to extend non-smoking areas.

This week's call by Otago University researchers for the introduction of Australian-style restrictions on outdoor smoking at bars, cafes and restaurants was no exception to the rule: smokers lamented self-righteous nanny-staters; non-smokers reiterated disgust at having to run a smoky gauntlet to enter buildings and being deprived of the best seats in the house - the outdoor tables that are typically colonised by smokers.

That science is on the researchers' side scarcely needs saying: the levels of fine-particle pollution are very high in outdoor smoking areas, making them health hazards for non-smokers, and things are not much better at adjacent, ostensibly smoke-free, indoor areas.

Both good sense and common courtesy are on the side of the non-smokers. It is pointless for smokers to complain that their rights should be given equal weight since there is no equivalence between the two groups: there is no entitlement to pollute others' environments.

That said, smokers do have rights as paying customers and a complete ban on their use of outdoor areas at eating and drinking establishments would be unfair. But that is not what is being suggested.

In Queensland, which runs the stiffest regime in Australia, only hotels, clubs and casinos may have smoking areas; they can take up only half the available outdoor space; and they must have buffers - typically impermeable fences - to protect others from smoke-drift.

Such requirements would not seem unduly harsh for our situation. Establishments that did not want to comply would be forced to do without smokers' custom, although past experience shows that they lose less business than was predicted. Others would make provision for both groups because they know that keeping customers happy is the essence of good business. A judicious mixture of regulation and market forces is better than the heavy hand of the state.

- Herald on Sunday

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