In theory, I'm exactly the type of person who should support Boston City Council's proposed ban on smoking in public parks and beaches. I frequent and enjoy parks and beaches, especially when they are cigarette-butt free. Like Felix G. Arroyo and Salvatore LaMattina, the city councilors who are proposing the ban, I have asthma and am sensitive to secondhand smoke. I've cheered when cities across the country have banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and other workplaces. And I strongly agree with the Globe's editorial position that Boston should ban smoking in its public housing units.
Yet I don't think the city council should ban smoking in parks and beaches. Here's why:
The strongest and most effective argument used to pass anti-smoking laws has been that the bans protect people from second-hand smoke where they work and live. Waitresses and bartenders, for example, deserve to work in environments that won't greatly increase their chances of developing cancer. Likewise, people living in housing units owned by the state shouldn't reside in homes that cause them significant health damages. In both of these examples, those harmed by second-hand smoke would have to go to extreme measures to avoid it; the waitress, for example, would have to find a new job in a down economy, and the single mom would have to move her and her family out of their home. It makes much more sense, then, for the law to protect the health of non-smokers instead of the convenience of smokers.
But this same argument doesn't apply to park and beach goers. People who wish to avoid second-hand smoke there can — all they have to do is find a different bench to sit on, or move their beach blankets a few feet to the right or left. While finding a new place to relax may be annoying, it's not that burdensome. Parks and beaches are big places. You can avoid smoke if you want to. The city shouldn't create laws banning annoying activities that are easily avoidable by the people who wish to avoid them. Just this very once, I have to side with the smokers.