Smoking will be allowed on pavements outside parks, and car parks in public parks. One area the ban does not cover is "median strips" - known as the central reservation in the UK - the sliver of land in the middle of a large road.
It is possible, dear reader, that you consider this to be a reasonable and proportion piece of legislation. You may believe that allowing people to smoke in the middle of the road—but not on the road, and certainly not on the pavement—is a fair compromise which neatly balances the rights of nonsmokers with smokers.
But if you believe that, I doubt there is anything I can say that would bring you to your senses. There isn't anything to say about the health grounds for the ban, because they're aren't any. There's nothing to say about the scientific basis for the ban because none has been offered. It's a simple case of 'might is right'. Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire bully who should move to Bhutan and I feel sorry for New Yorkers, but it's not as if he's done it all himself. Take this guy, for example:
“I think in the future,” the city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, said at a public hearing, “we will look back on this time and say 'How could we have ever tolerated smoking in a park?'”
If that sentence doesn't make you shudder then, again, you're reading the wrong blog. Imagine a society in which smoking is not only banned in parks but in which people find it unbelievable that such a thing could have ever taken place. How many years of illiberalism, molly-coddling, fear-mongering and 're-education' would have to pass before people's minds became that narrow? If ever there was an argument for lighting up, drinking up and checking out early, Thomas Farley's vision of the future is it.
So what does the NEJM article have to say about all this? Well, actually it's pretty reasonable. It reminds us that smoking bans pre-dated the secondhand smoke studies and that, therefore, bans have never been purely about health. It suggests that one of the justifications for the NY ban—that smoking outdoors is the main source of litter—is based on a highly dubious measure which counts the number of individual items rather than overall volume. It accepts that outdoor smoking bans are primarily part of the denormalisation campaign and are ethically questionable. And it says, as this blog frequently says, that what we are witnessing is creeping prohibition.
Most health professionals agree that an outright prohibition on the sale of cigarettes would be unfeasible and would lead to unwanted consequences such as black markets and the crime that accompanies them.
Yet steadily winnowing the spaces in which smoking is legally allowed may be leading to a kind of de facto prohibition. Smoking bans imposed by states and municipalities have been accompanied by comparable measures in the private sector. Some employers and property owners prohibit smokers from congregating in building doorways; colleges and universities have banned smoking on their campuses; condominiums, apartments, and other multi-unit dwellings have passed requirements for smoke-free apartments. As the historian Allan Brandt has noted, smokers may soon have nowhere left to hide. Pressed by a city council member about where he believed people should be allowed to smoke in New York City, Farley responded, “I’m not prepared to answer that.”
On a similar note, the Free Society and Privacy International are hosting a debate about smoking and civil liberties at the Institute of Economic Affairs next Wednesday. Details here.