The price of cigarettes has become astronomical and in NYC has practically doubled in cost over the last five years due to accumulated taxation. Smokers are already prohibited from lighting up in public restaurants, bars and some outdoor spaces like playgrounds. On Wednesday, Sept. 15 Mayor Bloomberg announced the City Council’s pursuit of an extension to this ban. It will now include public outdoor areas such as parks, beaches and boardwalks. The bill must now “go through committee hearings before the full 51-member council can vote.” While at first such simple, and seemingly helpful, changes in public safety and health awareness might seem like a positive thing, it might not be that simple.
Freedom is a touchy subject, and in a post-9/11 world the lines seem to have been blurred even more. Things we used to take for granted have now been stripped away before our very eyes. It seems as though the American public can no longer take care of itself. In a lawsuit-happy nation, pointing the finger is the best way to relinquish personal responsibility. Sure, stare down that smoker standing outside the building on his or her lunch break–condemn them if you will. But if you happen to be driving your SUV to the store to buy charcoal for your barbecue, then it may be time for some self-reflection. It would seem as though any human activity with environmental health risks should now be under scrutiny. That would most definitely include the burning of fossil fuels, but now I’m just pointing fingers.
It’s easy to ignore the world’s oil crisis, global warming or industrial pollution. These are issues too overwhelming to regularly ponder. It would also mean taking personal responsibility and making some serious changes. Changing old habits can be quite difficult and isn’t it always easier to make someone else change instead? I will finally admit that yes, I am a smoker. I’m not promoting it in any way and in fact would dissuade most people from starting. I would also like to quit one day, but that will be my decision, just as it is my decision to smoke. I could blame manipulative advertising and addictive chemicals for my bad habit, but I’d rather take the blame myself. I’ll also admit to not driving a car, buying locally grown produce, reducing my purchases of over-packaged goods and recycling wherever possible.
Research has proven that vehicle exhaust “accounts for two-thirds of carbon monoxide emissions” and in some urban areas “exceeded ninety percent.” That remaining one-third can be credited to everything from smoking to outdoor grilling. Even electric appliances require manufacturing and power, both of which produce carbon monoxide. How about placing more restrictions on automobile use? It does take up two-thirds of the air-pollution pie. That way we can deal with the most significant source of poor air quality. Now I’m not giving myself an excuse to light up, but I should definitely be able to get up from a picnic at Central Park and walk a few yards away to have a cigarette. It’s really up to people themselves to enforce courteousness, not the government. And the next time you find yourself sneering at the smoker outside the restaurant, maybe share that sneer with the traffic jam at your other side.
Sara Kugler Frazier, “Bloomberg Wants Ban on Smoking in Parks, Beaches”, NBC New York.
Carbon Monoxide Kills Campaign, “Carbon Monoxide Emissions”, Carbon Monoxide Kills.