While it is one’s constitutional right after a certain age to light up and smoke to their heart’s content, there is also firm scientific proof now that confirms that second hand smoke is harmful to even non-smoking individuals. Complications from second hand smoke can lead to sinus and respiratory problems as well as leading to lung cancer. In fact some research has even indicated that those exposed to second hand smoke are actually inhaling more harmful toxins then the smokers themselves!
The problem with this question is that the answer is not easily found and the answer is not a one-size fits all sort of solution. Public places exist all over and include both indoor and outdoor locations. Some locations have good ventilation, other locations do not. Some locations are completely wide open spaces, others may be open but lack enough fresh air to disperse smoke.
Many cities and states now ban smoking within public buildings and other closed public areas. Some cities and areas, including here in Philadelphia, have gone as far as to ban smoking within private establishments such as bars and restaurants which has left many smokers feeling as if their rights have been violated. I believe the government’s ability to enact a ban of smoking in bars comes from their power to revoke liquor licenses from bars that do not comply, similar to when the federal government threatened to pull highway funds from states that did not comply with a higher drinking age.
A common smoking restriction in areas where the impact of second hand smoke is a bit hazy (pardon the pun) is that smokers must be a certain number of feet from building entrances while smoking, although the effectiveness of that regulation depends on environmental factors as well as compliance to the regulation. I have heard of a few cities installing smoking stations (similar to smoking rooms that once existed in restaurants) outside where smokers are contained in a bus stop like enclosure and the air is filtered out before leaving the unit. Again with this regulation, some cry foul and say that now those smokers are being punished for smoking by also having to inhale second hand smoke. Quite ironic if you think about it.
In the end though,public places are just what their name infers, public places where anyone can gather and within the law do what they wish. This debate won’t be settled by an all out ban, as comedian Denis Leary once stated in a routine that even if smoking was made completely illegal, you’d find him in his apartment with shades drawn, hiding under a blanket puffing away on his cigarettes. Rather this debate will be settled like many debates are, through compromise.
Smoking in public places where there is an imminent risk to others such as indoor locations deemed public should be, and in many cases already is, banned. Smoking in open spaces such as the streets, parks, and other naturally ventilated areas can’t be proven to be an imminent health risk to the public because then wouldn’t most pollution be banned? If one wants to light up and smoke what some call cancer sticks then in America they have the right to so smoking must remain legal and within appropriate public places it has no reason to be banned.
Drinking is legal and yet causes many problems including social, health, and emotional problems. Yet as long as a person is of legal age and is not endangering others in ways such as drunk driving, then that person has a right to drink despite risks to their own bodies. The same holds true for smoking.