Ban On Smoking Breaths New Life Into Pubs And Clubs
In June of this year I was in a local pub, celebrating the life of a friend after her funeral. The small pub was packed and a heavy haze hung above the heads of all present. But this was haze not the due to the sombre mood of the occasion, quite the opposite as there was much laughing, talking and drinking going on; the haze was one of cigarette smoke. “Are there any free ash trays?” My friend had cried into the babble as she searched for a place to ash her cigarette; all the ash trays had been snapped up quickly and placed on people’s tables. Just about everyone had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other and the atmosphere was one of fond reflection among a large group packed into small place, laughing, drinking and smoking together. The smoky atmosphere of the pub ensured that by the end of the night, I went home with my hair and clothes had smelling thoroughly of cigarette smoke. This was, of course, before the pub and club smoking bans had come into effect.
More recently, I visited the same pub. As I sat in the very same seat I had occupied back in June, the change in atmosphere was remarkable. The smell of the place and the clarity of the air struck me immediately, it was strange to see the air in a pub so clear. And then, in an inconspicuous corner I spotted the shiny new “No smoking” sign tacked onto a pin-board amongst advertisements for upcoming events and community notices. Another thing I noticed though, was nearly everyone in the bar ducking out at some point to have a cigarette on the pavement or in the small court yard. The bans it seems, have not encouraged everyone to quit immediately, but perhaps this will come in time.
To be honest, I expected the new laws to enjoy a brief period of compliance, but to be largely flouted and ignored in the long run. I perceived the general attitude towards the impending ban to be flippant, as clubs advertised the night before the bans came into effect as ‘smokers eve’ and invited patrons to come and celebrate the last night they would be allowed to smoke inside. What I did not expect was for the pub and club smoking ban to be widely accepted and welcomed, even by those who smoke. The recent banning of smoking in pubs and clubs has caused very little fuss or backlash. Most smokers have accepted the change as inevitable as the attitude of society changes and non-smokers have relished in the new smoke-free environments.
I doubt there are many people who are not fully aware of the dangers of smoking to ones health. Graphic images of the effects of smoking stare smokers in the face from their cigarette packets and television adds; with all the information available it is impossible for any person to be ignorant of the effects of smoking. So if an individual chooses to smoke, the rest of society must accept that this is an informed decision and respect the rights of the individual to pursue this legal activity. However, an individual forfeits their right to do as they please if this has an adverse effect on others around them. The notion of “smokers rights” can only go so far and a smoker cannot assume they have the right to give other people lung cancer. These bans go a step further than informing the individual of the dangers of smoking by protecting those who chose not to smoke themselves but are affected by the choices of other people.
Research has shown that being exposed to second-hand smoke can cause the same health problems as direct smoking and that second-hand smoke contains more of some harmful chemicals than direct smoke. No one could disagree that to expose another unwilling individual to the dangers of cigarette smoke, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, bronchitis and asthma is dreadfully unfair. Most at risk are those who work in pubs and clubs, staff who can be exposed to second-hand smoke for up to eight hours a day. Smoking has been banned in other work places and so it is only fair to provide a smoke-free environment for hospitality workers as well. Everyone needs to have the right to work in a smoke-free environment, and the ban provides non-smoking hospitality employees with just that. Of course, if they choose to smoke in their own time, that it up to them. What these new laws provide is choice to the individual, not just for employees but also for patrons.
It can be argued that the laws provide the exact opposite of choice to the public by restricting a legal activity, but this fails to take into account that smokers are free to smoke in their own homes, cars and on the street; just not in enclosed spaces among those who may not wish to be exposed to cigarette smoke. It is difficult to argue that the laws are not fair, as now everyone has access to both non-smoking and smoking environments.
Of course, some establishments are going to find it difficult to adjust to the new laws by building outdoor smoking areas, but it is an adjustment that will have to be made as times change. These new laws are evidence of the fact that attitudes toward smoking are changing in the face of ever-growing evidence of the associated health risks. The pub and club smoking ban is likely to see in a new era of pub culture, where a smoke-free environment is standard and both smokers and non-smokers are free to enjoy the atmosphere of any venue they wish to patronise. Non-smokers are more likely to enjoy a night out, as there will be no need to worry about inhaling harmful chemicals all night, or coming home reeking of smoke. The bans can be seen as an inevitable step forward, marking an end to the “smoky bar-room” and introducing a safe environment for both employees and patrons.
Personally, I advocate the right for each individual to make their own lifestyle choices. If someone chooses to smoke, who am I, or anyone else to contest their decision? However, the right to choose includes the right to choose not to be exposed to cigarette smoke, and if each individual is to be provided with this choice the pub and club bans provide the only logical solution. What we must take care to avoid is over-stepping the mark and enforcing restrictions that undermine the rights of an individual, such as would be apparent if smoking were banned altogether. The government should not have the right to decide if an individual smokes or does not smoke, but the government does have the responsibility to provide a good quality of life for everyone and these laws do exactly that…lets just not take it too far.