You don't have to look far in the United States to see how extensive public health efforts go to combat smoking. If you think back to the experience of going out at night or even walking down a city street 15 years ago, you can remember a time when cigarette smoke was virtually everywhere, from bars and restaurants to music venues and parks. But now, in many major cities smokers even claim they feel like “second class citizens,” such are the restrictions on their activities. Anti-smoking laws force them to engage in their nicotine puffing away from the average person in an effort to limit exposure to secondhand smoke, which has a variety of negative health effects.
New York City may be at the extreme end, being one of 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed comprehensive laws prohibiting public smoking. In NYC, the law was signed into effect in February of 2011, and it makes smoking illegal in all public parks and beaches, as well as pedestrian areas like Times Square. This is on top of preexisting regulations that are more common across the entire country and much of the world, including bans on smoking in restaurants and non-hospitality buildings and within specific distances of all public buildings.
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For most smokers in the United States, smoking has become much more difficult, as they have to find somewhere that isn't too close to a building or too heavily-used a public space. And for anyone who stops to really process how this has changed common experiences in these cities, their effects are dramatic. Especially if you spend time abroad in countries that don't have the same aggressive “non-smokers' rights” laws, you quickly come to appreciate how nice it is to never end up in a surprising cloud of secondhand smoke while walking down the sidewalk or relaxing in a park. But the purpose is much more important than alleviating that discomfort.
Secondhand smoke is potentially deadly. And lawmakers have decided that those who don't smoke in the United States have a right to be free of the risks of exposure when in public. While it's too soon to reliably track the health effects of these bans in the U.S., a recent study out of Scotland suggests a link between decreasing exposure to secondhand smoke in public places and reducing the instance of preterm and undersized births. This is just one of many likely benefits of the ban for nonsmokers.
But it looks like smokers themselves may be indirectly benefitting as well. A survey from 4,600 households across Europe found that the introduction of smoke-free legislation seemed to be correlated with smokers decreasing the amount they smoked at home. A similar study in the United States found that people who live in counties with comprehensive smoking bans were more likely to have similar bans at home, disproportionately so in the homes of smokers themselves.
So is seems that the science of beating smoking and protecting nonsmokers shows that these extensive bans have a range of desired and unexpected benefits for both smokers and nonsmokers. Maybe it's time for you to take advantage of the little push behind these bans to improve your life by quitting smoking today too.