The Chinese proverb, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think,” is a dangerously tempting encouragement to live in the moment without worrying about the consequences. This carefree attitude and disregard for all else is similar to the current debate between smokers and nonsmokers. As Americans, our right to make personal lifestyle choices is very important to us, and many smokers will often use this argument to explain their right to smoke. On the other hand, we also maintain that our decisions should not impede other peoples’ freedom. To resolve this debate, I answer with another quote: "Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins." Any conflict between the rights of smokers and nonsmokers is best resolved by realizing that since the personal choice to smoke is harmful to others, it is no longer seen as a private decision, but rather a public danger.
The smoking debate arises during a trip to the neighborhood grocery store, when eating out with friends, or upon entry or exit from the office building. Since the passing of the California Smoke-Free Workplace Act (AB13), smoking has been banned in indoor workplaces. However, the new place to smoke seems to have moved only a few feet away, just to the entryway of the business. This problem has been recognized by the State of California to a small extent, through the prohibition of smoking within 20 feet of entryways and windows of all government-owned buildings. But I ask, shouldn’t all workers be afforded the same protection of health, government employee or not?
Progress has been hindered by a fear to act, but smokefree support is now the majority. Seventy seven percent of California voters support a law to ban smoking in front of doors and windows of shops and businesses. Courts have consistently rejected the common misconception that there is a constitutional right to smoke. Already, 69 Californian cities like Laguna Hills and Los Angeles have passed outdoor policies banning smoking, but here in our community, we remain unprotected.
The lull in action only means the death tolls from secondhand smoke will continue to grow. Current rates show that in the United States alone, 46,000 nonsmokers will die every year from heart diease alone, because of tobacco smoke exposure. Clearly, the request to put out a cigarette is not equivalent to extinguishing freedom. When done in the interests of public safety, the establishment of smokefree public areas is a necessary step towards reclaiming the health and safety of our community.