Pros and Cons of Smoking Bans

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Next Tuesday is the election, and Marcia Oster doesn't know how she will vote. Marcia's state is asking its constituents to vote on a ban on smoking in all public places, including restaurants, businesses, and bars.

The proposed ban would require businesses to set aside an area a few feet outside the business where people may smoke. California, for example, has such a measure in place. It prohibits all smoking of tobacco products in 100% of enclosed places of employment. The objective, as cited in the law, is "to reduce employee exposure to environmental tobacco smoke." Smokers may have an enclosed smoking room, if it has proper ventilation. Employers must also post nonsmoking signs at the entrance to their establishment. This includes all restaurants and bars. The California ban was implemented gradually over a five-year period; in 1998, the third phase, which affects bars and clubs, went into effect.

Many business people, especially restaurant and bar owners, oppose smoking bans such as the one in California. These owners argue that they should be able to operate their businesses as they please and that government-imposed smoking bans take away that right. They are also afraid revenues will decrease if smokers no longer patronize their establishments. However, some studies show that smoking bans have no significant effect on overall profits.

Although Marcia doesn't smoke, both her parents do, and they have told her many times that they feel discriminated against by groups pushing for nonsmoking areas and by laws that restrict where smokers can go. It doesn't bother them that they cannot smoke while shopping, but they are angry about the proposed ban in restaurants and bars. Most restaurants in their state already have nonsmoking sections, and Marcia's parents feel this is enough.

On the other side of the issue, Marcia’s friend Cathy is very allergic to cigarette smoke. Her physicians have told her to stay away from smoke whenever possible because it triggers her asthma. While smokers claim that smoking bans infringe on their personal freedom, Cathy argues that people should only be allowed to do what they want as long as their actions do not harm others. She points out that if you are around smokers, you have no choice but to breathe in the smoke they exhale, and that the harmful effects of breathing secondhand smoke have been documented. The Centers for Disease Control report that an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 62,000 deaths from coronary heart disease are attributed to secondhand smoke annually. In children, secondhand smoke is also linked to sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, chronic middle ear infections, and respiratory illnesses. In fact, some scientists have determined that exhaled smoke actually contains more carbon monoxide than smoke inhaled directly from cigarettes.


  1. How would you vote if you were Marcia?
  2. Do you think a state should be able to regulate where a person smokes? Why or why not?
  3. Businesses, too, may suffer from a smoking ban due to the loss of customers. Many bars in California have filed suit to stop the ban, but so far they have not succeeded. Should businesses have the right to decide who comes into and what is done on their premises? Why or why not?
  4. Can you think of any compromises or alternatives to a total smoking ban?
  5. The California law demands that an owner ask nonemployees to stop smoking and take reasonable steps to stop them. What would be some “reasonable steps”?
  6. Many opponents of the California law say that it "deprives people from using a legal product in a private establishment." Should the government of California or any state make cigarettes illegal? Why or why not?


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