Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Smoking, sex on the sidewalk

It was the headline that caught my eye. The online edition of KCBS (Radio News) reported the story (as did others) as an attempt to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke.

Berkeley Expands Smoking Ban
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to expand an already-tough outdoor smoking ban to include all commercial zones. The ban previously only included sidewalks along 16 major streets.

Mayor Tim Bates, himself a former smoker, said enforcement is complaint driven "Certainly it's in peoples' best interest not to have a smoker around them. So we hope that we can convince people that it's the right thing to do," Bates explained.

Violators will be fined $100 for a first offense, and as much as $500 after multiple offenses.

I really didn’t pay much attention; smoking bans of this type are becoming old hat and it was a short piece, not really worth commenting on, or so I thought. But a day or two later, I read a post by Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco control advocate whose blog “The Rest of the Story”, has become one of my regular stopovers on my frequent trips through cyberspace.

What had I missed that Dr. Siegel found so interesting? What was the rest of the story? Dr. Siegel’s post pointed me to an article by Carolyn Jones in the San Francisco Chronicle; and there it was.

Apparently, last November, City Council in Berkeley, California, approved a controversial plan to crack down on “yelling, littering, camping, drunkenness, smoking, urinating and sex on sidewalks and in parks.” (Italics mine)

Under The Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, seniors or social workers would walk around monitoring street behavior and either direct homeless people to social services or call the police as necessary. The initiative was, allegedly, in response to complaints from visitors, merchants and residents that the city's public places were becoming increasingly inhospitable as a result of rowdy behavior.

Dr. Siegel’s post begs the question, “How exactly is smoking "rowdy behavior?"

“I can understand why city officials would want to outlaw public yelling, public littering, public camping in certain areas, public drunkenness, public urination, and public sex. However, how in the world did public smoking get onto that list?”

And, the answer, as I’m sure Dr. Siegel is aware, is that it’s simply another attempt to vilify smokers; another exercise in behavioural control. Linking smokers to such socially unacceptable behaviour as urinating in public and publicly engaging in sexual activity, tends to demonize smokers. And, the anti-smoker militants must discredit and demean smokers at every opportunity. Otherwise, their campaign of discrimination against smokers would not be tolerated.

Dr. Siegel ends his post with the comment, “I think I am now safe in opining that the anti-smoking movement has indeed gotten out of control.”


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