Editorial: Let's ban all outdoor smoking areas near bars and cafes

11012015 News photo: Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ. Generic file. Cigarettes. Smoking. Smokes. Tobacco. Cancer. Quitting.
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX MEDIA

11012015 News photo: Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ. Generic file. Cigarettes. Smoking. Smokes. Tobacco. Cancer. Quitting.

OPINION: A court case about "outdoor" smoking areas in bars and restaurants is overdue. There has long been argument about what counts as an outdoor area. There is plenty of scope for obfuscation and subversion of the principles of non-smoking.

The bars and restaurants, after all, have an excellent motive for smuggling in more and more smoking areas: money. If a pub becomes known as the "smokers' local", it has a big advantage in the marketplace. Smokers could then escape the law which was designed to stop them breathing smoke over fellow-drinkers and diners.

The law will decide exactly what counts as an "outdoor" area. It is worth recognising, however, why officials are bringing the prosecutions. While bar owners say the rules have been changed in the middle of the game, Regional Medical Officer of Health Stephen Palmer says the bars have been "pushing the limits" for years. "It's quite standard up and down the street for bars to be thumbing their noses at the rules," he says. 

No smoking icon
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No smoking icon

The argument turns on the meaning of "outdoors." It will always be in the bars' and restaurants' interests to turn the smoky indoors into a notional outdoors, but the anti-smoking champions have rightly challenged them. The Cancer Society brought a case in 2013 that eventually showed the Ministry of Health's "outdoor calculator" was unlawful.

Now the ministry is proposing new rules requiring an outdoor smoking area to be 35 per cent open. Anything that can be closed, including doors, plastic sheets and even an umbrella, would not count as open space. If it can be closed, it's fair to suppose that it will be. That, after all, will provide the noxious fug that the bars and their smoking clients want.

But perhaps there is a better way to deal with this. Rather than engaging in a byzantine debate about what is an open space, perhaps the law should just ban smoking in all outdoor areas in and around bars and restaurants. This is what the local and regional councils suggested to the government in July, and a good case can be made. Partial bans, after all, always lead to invidious arguments. Even this newspaper has wondered about the wisdom of banning outdoor smoking areas on the windswept Wellington waterfront.

But a blanket ban would avoid all these micro-controversies. And although there might be an element of rough justice here, the greater good arguably trumps the particular case. Perhaps the best approach might be to ban smoking within, say,  three metres of any bar or restaurant, and leave it at that. We have had enough sophistry from the tobacco lobby.

After all, the fundamental principles behind all anti-smoking laws are clear and they should not be sabotaged by those with a commercial interest in backing Big Tobacco. The first principle is that smokers have the right to smoke. The second principle is that they do not have the right to inflict toxic fumes on others. The danger of second-hand smoke is abundantly clear. And so is the distress caused by blowing your smoke in someone else's face.

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 - Stuff

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