Editorial: Wellington should ban smoking in many more parts of the city

Smoking maims and kills.

Smoking maims and kills.

EDITORIAL: Wellingtonians rightly want smoking banned in more parts of the city. 

The survey results showing this are so strong that city councillors will feel confident and go ahead with the ban. But there will be some – variously posing as liberals or libertarians – who say the moves are unfair. 

No, they're not.

Smokers have the right to smoke. But they don't have the right to inflict their smoke on anyone else. Tobacco smoke is not only toxic, it is highly unpleasant to non-smokers. With no other substance would it be claimed that users may impose it on non-users.    

Banning smoking everywhere would be a perfectly acceptable idea, but it wouldn't be practicable. It wouldn't end smoking, any more than prohibition ended the drinking of alcohol.  Smokers are addicts; they need help. 

But nobody can complain about banning smoking in bus stops or any other semi-closed public area where non-smokers can't easily escape the smoke. Some might say parks and open spaces like the Botanic Gardens are different. In these places, other people can dodge the fumes.

Wellingtonians are sometimes misled here because they assume the wind is always blowing. But even in Wellington there are still days. And on still days a bunch of smokers can spread smoke across a wide area.

That is why the council is justified in its present ban on smoking in parks, sportsfields, Midland Park, the zoo and Zealandia. 

The council would also be justified in extending the ban to the Botanic Gardens, Otari-Wilton's Bush, and entrances to public buildings. The public wants this, according to a public survey. And smokers have no rational objection. 

Should smokers who flout the bans be fined? Again, there is no objection in principle, but fines are probably impracticable. They would be difficult and expensive to enforce. They also risk making martyrs of smokers who break the law. Most smokers are law-abiding people who know that their habit is dangerous to themselves and repulsive to others. 

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But a small clique will cast themselves as freedom fighters and their cause will be taken up by misguided libertarians. It's probably better, at least for a while, to rely on public signs and the law-abiding majority. 

Besides, many people don't know about the present anti-smoking by-laws, let alone the proposed extensions. Each anti-smoking step that is taken helps build the road to a largely smoke-free society. But the public takes time to absorb the new policies.

The overall movement will go only one way. The tobacco companies have lost the battle for hearts and minds, but they will fight forever for their "right" to peddle a lethal substance that kills half the smokers and spreads suffering and disease.

So the proposed moves in Wellington are wholly welcome. In the meantime, more needs to be done to help the addicts quit their habit. And still more needs to be done to harm and destroy Big Tobacco.

 - Stuff


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