Dead through Passive Smoking

It is not exactly a theme for this blog but I nevertheless would like to write down some thoughts on smoking. The motivation for the following post was this article on Spiegel Online.

According to a recently published study by WHO researchers on the consequences of passive smoking worldwide (it is the first such study of this dimension), about 600.000 people per year are dying as a consequence of others smoking in their environment.

According to the study, 40 per cent of all children in the world are exposed to passive smoking (as well as 35 per cent of non-smoking women and 33 per cent of non-smoking men). The striking fact is that nearly 28 per cent of the estimated dead are children (women are even 47 per cent). The uneven distribution of this statistic is a sad fact as well – while in Europe “only” 60 children are dying through exposion to smoke, there are tens of thousends of such deaths in Africa and South-East Asia (23.000 and 56 .000, respectively) every year.

Most of the deaths are largely unequivocally due to passive smoking: their main causes are heart diseases (379.000 cases), respiratory system diseases, asthma and lung cancer.

The authors of the study call for comprehensive smoking bans. They are convinced that this would lead to a major decrease of death cases caused by passive smoking.

So far the study. I personally feel constrained in my freedom and, actually, in my human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in its 25th article:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family (…).

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

When I have to inhalate smoke because somebody is reckless enough to smoke in the public, I feel constrained in my negative freedom not to have my health impaired.

Unfortunately (?), a prohibition wouldn’t solve the problem. They don’t do principally – that’s what we should have learned from the Prohibition years in the US after the WWI as well as from the problems with modern anti-drug-laws. But it needn’t to be a total ban of smoking. It would be enough to ban smoking in public areas and to provide more education for parents, so that they know that they are harming their children when smoking (perhaps this should be combined with some legal consequences when they do it anyway – beating children has legal consequences as well, and it isn’t really harming them more than exposing them to tobacco smoke – it is only a question of the time horizon because consequences of smoking are mostly observable in the long term first, not immediately).

Smokers have the right to smoke. I would like to say that they haven’t, but it would be contrary to my system of values. Nevertheless, their freedom to do it has an end as soon as it starts constraining the right of others to enjoy health.

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