Editorial: When smoke gets in your sights

We don't want our cemeteries to be capable of drumming up their own business.

And cigarettes have hastened uncounted Invercargill people on their journey to the Eastern Cemetery.

But much as the Southern District Health Board wants to advance the smokefree cause, it overreaches by asking the Invercargill City Council for a bylaw to ban smoking at the cemetery and crematorium grounds.

Indoor bans are one thing. The dangers of exposure to passive smoking are well accepted and those who still raise wheezes of protest about their long-gone right to chuff away inside public buildings can expect scant support.

But outside, those carcinogenic tendrils of smoke rising up at sorrowful occasions from the bereft, or those who are paying their respects, aren't harming others. They are perhaps lowering the tone. But can't we give smokers a break just sometimes? Like, for instance, times of stress and grief?

The agenda would appear to be to make things gratuitously hard for smokers because, well, it's for their own good and they lack the willpower to do it without plenty of motivational bullying and shaming from wider society.

And it would keep them out of sight rather than setting a bad example.

There's a substantial difference between helping people and subjecting them to hectoring reproach and the pariah status of unclean outcasts.

The council is yet to make any decision but the proposal has drawn an unenthusiastic initial reception from a couple of councillors. And so it should.

The thing is, however, there's a sticky precedent.

In 2010 the council had one of its very occasional spasms of social piety. It passed a bylaw making all its sports fields and reserves smokefree.

At any rate, that's what the signage declares. The council appears to lack either the will or the wherewithal to police it all that much.

How, then, might the council justify rejecting outdoorsy smoking ban at its cemetery/crematorium, while maintaining it at sports grounds and reserves? If anything, smoking could be said to be more contextually appropriate around headstones than around exercisers.

Even if the ban is little more than tokenism, it's bad tokenism.

It's hardly news to smokers that theirs is a hideously unhealthy, screamingly expensive and in many cases socially difficult habit. Many, not all, try to be discrete about it, but most of them do feel the social reproach acutely. How many among them haven't tried to stop?

There's substantial help available for people who are trying to quit smoking, typically through initiatives that are encouraging and supportive.

And there's a place for big sticks as well as carrots. The stick should certainly come out, as it has been, in the Government's treatment of the tobacco industry.

But as for treatment of smokers themselves, let's not be jerks about it.

The one caveat we'd put on that is where smokers at places like a cemetery or a park carelessly flick their butts hither and yon. That's just being grubby, lazy and rude.

The Southland Times