Persecuting smokers …and leaving everyone else to their own devices

by Yule Heibel on May 3, 2008

There’s an editorial in today’s Times-Colonist, Persecuting smokers, which includes a reference to BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall that has me scratching my head.

The editorial is about the Lower Mainland municipality of White Rock’s plan to ban smoking in all outdoor public places by 2010.  This would include streets, parks, beaches: everywhere.  The editorial notes that this “looks more like a plan to persecute smokers than a strategy for protecting non-smokers.”  Agree.  Dr. Kendall, meanwhile, is fully supportive of this plan.

Why am I scratching my head?  I’m just not clear on why Dr. Kendall thinks that banning smoking in all public spaces (including streets, beaches, anywhere) would “‘de-normalize smoking’ so that fewer youths are tempted to take up the habit,” while at the same time Dr. Kendall also advocates in favor of freely dispensing needles to addicts (who promptly take their needle and shoot up openly on the street or in a park, incidentally also in full view of “youths”) and handing out “crack kits” (pipes, mouth condoms) to addicts, who (again) then openly ingest these substances on the street.  There seems to be no concern over the social disorder on the street that results from the sort of half-way “harm reduction” that simply involves giving addicts the tools, leaving them to continue as before.

I don’t smoke, although I used to smoke.  I loathe the smell of smoke and ashtrays.  But I think there’s something really sick about our increasingly blinkered society that we’ll go after smokers, while we hand the streets over to users (and pushers — oh, yes, so many pushers in Victoria) of hard drugs.  It’s as though the nanny state is in overload mode.  It can’t “solve” the drug issue, so it downloads it to the street (that’s us).  It can’t “solve” the problems of addiction and mental health (and resultant homelessness — and crime, typically property crime to support drug habits), so it downloads them to the street (that’s us).  But it can appear “forward-thinking” and “health-minded” when it comes to “us” (citizens, who unlike the chronically homeless, can still be fined — the latter are beyond fining), so downloads another nanny-esque ban on us.   We’re just supposed to hold still and take it, just as we’re supposed to hold still for all the other downloading.

The editorial disagrees with a ban on all outdoor/ public space smoking, and succeeds in making a critique of Kendall’s stance on smoking by pointing out that we ban the consumption of alcohol on the street, but “youths” still drink.  But it doesn’t make the connection that we have given up on controlling the use of hard drugs on our streets.  It suggests instead that: “Smokers are a dying breed. We shouldn’t be so hasty to take away what few places they have left to indulge their habits.”

Oh really?  First, show me that smokers are a dying breed, unless that’s meant literally of course.  And second, is this “time will take care of it” attitude what’s letting our streets go to hell with regard to hard drugs?

{ 1 comment }

maria May 3, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Well, you know, here in Lotus Land North (Northern California) there have been several proposal to ban smoking not just outdoors, but also in apartment buildings, as well as in the backyard of one’s own home, lest the smoke should waft too far afield from the smoker’s personal space and infect innocent children playing in the yard next door or sleeping two floor up from the smokers condo.

I used to be a heavy smoker myself, but I quit more than 25 years ago. I always hated ashtrays and the smell of cigarette smoke, and only started to smoke because everyone around me was doing it and I figured (back then) that it would bother me less if I smoked too… Hah! Anyway, I have been defending the right of smokers to smoke and do whatever they want with their lungs, provided they leave me smoke-free places in restaurants and bars, planes, trains, and other enclosed public spaces.

But you are right, the problem is with giving up on controlling drug use on the streets … and because maybe some legislators are as addicted to “control” as smokers to nicotine, and users to their brand of drugs, they get a bigger hit with coming down on smokers, which is way easier than dealing with the tangled web of drug use.

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