When the forthcoming ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was announced, I realized what one of the consequences was likely to be. My fears have been borne out. This was the realization that banning smoking inside would lead to a massive increase in smoking outside. We had already become accustomed to seeing pitiful gaggles of people standing smoking outside office blocks and other places where smoking was banned and on a visit to Ireland (which implemented a ban much sooner than we did) we saw the same phenomenon outside pubs and similar establishments. It was obvious that this would happen here.
Some pubs and cafes have provided outside smoking areas for customers. In other cases, outside tables are being used by smokers despite the fact that smoking is prohibited at them (often the tables have “No Smoking” notices affixed) because they are within the precincts of the building, and nothing is being done to curb this practice. In theory, the owner of the premises could be fined for allowing smoking but there is no sign that the police are doing anything about this, despite the fact that the smokers are operating openly in full view.
What this all means is that it is now difficult to walk down a street without without becoming a victim of “passive smoking”. You might think that smoke dissipates quickly in the open air but it isn’t necessarily the case. Except on very windy days, streets offer a fairly sheltered environment. Fumes from traffic, smoke and steam from heating systems and restaurant kitchens and tobacco smoke from smokers contribute to a long lasting fug that the pedestrian has to walk through. Sometimes it is sufficient to walk quickly on but on other occasions it isn’t so easy to escape: waiting in a queue at a bus stop, for example, you are often subjected to smoke from cigarettes and you may feel unwilling to move for fear of losing your place.
We are quickly building up a problem that will need to be dealt with sooner or later but as far as I know there are as yet no plans to tackle it. In fact, the opposite is true and local authorities seem to be giving aid and comfort to smokers. I refer to the increasing appearance of ashtrays affixed to lampposts and other street furniture. While there may be a simplistic view that this is a good thing because it helps prevent smokers’ litter fouling the pavements, it is bad because it sends the message that it is perfectly acceptable to smoke in the street.
Finally, don’t I feel just a little twinge of sympathy for smokers who are being “harassed” and “discriminated against” (their words, not mine)? In a word, no. There is overwhelming evidence that smoking is very bad for both smokers and those around them. If smokers want to damage themselves, that’s up to them but they do not have the right to damage me. If they don’t have the guts to give up their habit, then let them smoke in private. I look forward to a total ban on smoking in all public places, open or closed.