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Smoking Rights and Wrongs

Updated on August 20, 2014

Does a person have a right to smoke in the presence of unconsenting people?

There are several basic issues involved here. The first one is whether or not smoking is an interference with the rights of the person who does not consent to breathe secondhand smoke. One can see this as a question, first of all, as to whether smoking is voluntary, and breathing is voluntary, and secondly, to what extent smoking in the presence of someone who doesn't consent inconveniences that other person.

Let's take each in turn.

Breathing is a requirement. It is not an option. Smoking is voluntary. Although it can be argued that smoking is highly addictive, and I would agree, the act of lighting up a particular cigarette, cigar, or pipe, is a voluntary one. Choosing where to smoke is also a voluntary act. Even if this were not the case, no person has a right to use the excuse of addiction for overriding the rights of another person.

Does smoking in the presence of someone who doesn't consent a violation of that person's rights? Yes! Why? Because the other person is forced to breathe the smoke. People try to argue this isn't harmful, and therefore should be allowed. However, even if it weren't harmful, that doesn't make it acceptable.

The fact is, however, that secondhand smoke IS harmful. I will give you several examples.

First, take a close relative of mine, a lifelong nonsmoker, who was exposed to smoke at work. She died of lung cancer. All the medical studies in the world mean nothing to me if this actually happens. And it does.

Then I read about a woman who had asthma, who was exposed to smoke, had an attack, and died.

I will finally offer my own case. Certain tobacco blends cause me to go into coughing fits. You don't wanna know about these, but I will tell you this much: if I am exposed to a mere five minutes, I can have a coughing fit that lasts fifteen to twenty minutes, which is so severe that I cannot catch my breath and I could lose my lunch! Now fortunately, so far I have recovered. What if I had a weak heart, and this caused a heart attack? It could happen.

No person has the right to cause this kind of harm to another person, especially by means of an act that is voluntary, and which could be exercised under SLIGHTLY different circumstances, with very little inconvenience to the smoker.

I will next consider the practical consequences of allowing people to smoke under certain circumstances.

Circumstances when people smoke

There are a lot of smokers who think they should have a right to smoke wherever they please. A common argument is that a person who owns property should be able to allow smoking on his premises if he wants. So these people argue that no-smoking laws should not be permitted.

But this begs the question. If you own a gun, you don't have a right to point it at people and shoot them. You also don't have the right to hand the gun to someone else and allow him to shoot that person. Your property rights end when an aggression is involved.

Is there aggression in smoking? Absolutely! When an act has the potential to cause the kind of harm I have discussed, it is aggression.

Your right to control your own property does not include the right to give a visitor the right to aggress against another visitor. If you open your property to the public, and invite the public, you are responsible to make sure that everyone who accepts your invitation leaves without harm.

Oh, but people argue that the person who is susceptible to smoke has the choice not to come in the first place.

This is true if and ONLY if the fact that smoking is allowed is placed in all advertisements, and the person who is seeking your services can find viable alternatives. Oh, but people will argue, the person who owns property isn't responsible for lack of alternatives. Well, yes and no. If a person is offering an essential service to the public, and he is the only one offering this in the area, there is a certain responsibility to offer a safe and healthy environment. Furthermore, even though some people would argue that if the owner maintains a separate room for nonsmokers, this should be adequate. Well, it's not. Smoke can get into the other room.

Let's take some specific cases.


The question of whether to allow smoking in restaurants is a very common one, and can be taken as an example of specifics.

Here is something that happened to me. I was traveling, and I had a motel reservation in a small town. I got there slightly after 9 pm. All the restaurants in the small town were closed, except one: the one in the casino. So I had to go there to eat. But, some people will argue, you can find another source of food. Well, not really. When I'm traveling, I need a decent meal, because if I do not have one, I have problems with narcolepsy, and I endanger myself and others.

So I am being asked to endanger people because I am adversely affected by smoking.

What about the smoker? Why doesn't he simply postpone smoking for five minutes, go to his car, and smoke there?

Do I have to forego a decent meal so he can light up five minutes sooner? The inconvenience is highly disproportionate.

The final thing to remember is that smoking is voluntary, and breathing is not. Therefore, the person who can voluntarily control his actions has a responsibility not to do something to harm someone who is engaging in a basic act for the preservation of his own life, an act he cannot refrain from exercising.

Then consider this possibility. I, as an adult, take my child into a place where people are smoking. Does the child have the right to refuse to go there? No. Only I have a right to take him there, even against his will. Shall we prohibit children from entering a place because there might be smoking there? That's ridiculous! I hope I don't have to explain why! It is well known that children who are exposed to smoke often develop asthma, and suffer attacks when exposed to smoke. If the only place I can get a decent meal for my child is in a restaurant where smoking is permitted, then prohibiting children is simply asinine. We ALL have a duty to protect children from harmful environments.

These same arguments apply to other places of business. Employees also have a right to breathe smoke-free air at work. Asking a person to give up his job because he is sensitive to smoke isn't reasonable.

Economic considerations

Some people say that prohibiting businesses from allowing smoking will put the businesses out of business.

Folks, this is nonsense. We have a no-smoking ordinance in the city where I live, and people still go to restaurants. The law provides that if a restaurant wants to permit smoking, it can become a private club, and then only persons who consent to being exposed to smoke will be allowed to enter. You know what? I REALLY don't have a problem with that as long as those services can be obtained elsewhere reasonably. Well, I know about one such private club. I actually went there once. They were selling cards for a dollar apiece, and I had to buy a card. The reason I went was because I was invited there. If I had known they permitted smoking, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation.

And guess what. None of the restaurants that observed the smoking ban went out of business. But the private club I'm talking about, did.

Even smokers don't always appreciate breathing other people's smoke.

A smoking ban saves a restaurant money. It costs money to clean up after the filthy deposits that smoke leaves everywhere. It costs money to provide medical care for the employees, both smokers and nonsmokers. It costs money to make up for days at work missed by people affected by smoke. In the long run, the restaurant will be saved a major expense.

I have eaten in only one restaurant where the room was open everywhere and there was smoking, where I didn't have a problem. I don't know how they did it. Maybe they had ionizers. I'm not convinced an ionizer is the answer, though, because it may take smoke out of the air, and deposit it on the walls (the smoke has to go someplace) and on other people's lungs.

If people are HONEST, they will ADMIT that smoking bans don't put people out of business. When everyone has to follow the same law, then the businesses do fine, and arguing to the contrary is simply nonsense. You say you know of a business that went under? Are you SURE it wasn't for some other reason?

The bottom line is that if a person wants to smoke, he can wait FIVE minutes and do it in a private place where he won't be assaulting anyone else.

The potential harm of banning smoking is so minuscule compared to the potential harm of allowing it. Since the law has to protect everyone, asking someone to suffer a minor inconvenience to avoid life-threatening harm is completely reasonable, and anybody who thinks otherwise simply isn't thinking straight.

Oh, and by the way. Do you know why we have anti-smoking ordinances? It is because some smokers were highly inconsiderate of others, and were subjecting unconsenting people to smoke constantly, and wouldn't honor the right of other people to breathe clean air. So those smokers only have themselves to blame.

Keep smoking among consenting adults in private.

If this still bothers you, stop smoking.

Red Herrings and Straw Men

Fallacious arguments offered in rebuttal

Some of the arguments I have heard against anti-smoking laws truly boggle the mind.

I'll add more as I think of them.

But here's a good one: if they pass these anti-smoking laws, next thing you know, they'll be passing laws against wearing perfume (or take your pick). Know why that's invalid? Well because these other behaviors don't really have an effect directly on me. If perfume causes an allergic reaction, it's comparable to smoking. But what about laws prohibiting drinking? If you drink in my presence, you're not forcing me to drink. But if you smoke in my presence, you're forcing me to smoke.

Maybe you want to drink and drive. That is illegal, and it should be. But drinking itself isn't illegal.

Smoking in my presence is more like someone slipping Rohypnol in my drink while I am not looking. Rohypnol is the date rape drug. Putting a dangerous medication in someone else's drink is a form of assault. So is smoking in someone's presence. But if you are drinking and you're not forcing me to drink, it's not comparable, so there will be no law.

Seen in a health food store:

"Anyone caught smoking on the premises will be hung by the toenails and pummeled into unconsciousness with an organic carrot."

Good Smoking Links - Quit smoking and protect your loved ones

Helpful links about the dangers of smoking, including secondhand and thirdhand smoke, and suggestions on how to quit. If you are a smoker, you owe it to your family to stop exposing them to toxic smoke. Even just smoking outdoors doesn't prevent thirdhand smoke on your clothing.

Thirdhand Smoke

Thirdhand smoke is smoke that a non-smoker (or even a smoker) breathes, which comes from clothing, furniture, or air inside a building where there is no active smoker present. People often tried to get me to accept a room full of thirdhand smoke when I went to a restaurant. I would say I needed to be far away from smokers, and they would tell me that there were no smokers present. But since there had been in the past, and because someone could come in later and smoke, I always pointed out it was no solution. The most egregious example of this kind of behavior was the time I went to one restaurant which had a "non-smoking" room that permitted smoking after 9 PM. They said they had permission from the city to have such a room, but I pointed out that calling it a "non-smoking" room was simply false. They weren't very happy with me. After the local non-smoking ordinance was passed, restaurants had to repaint walls, replace carpets, and perform a lot of cleanup to get rid of the thirdhand smoke in their rooms. More and more information is coming out about how thirdhand smoke has a serious impact on the health of non-smokers. I am so thankful that I now live in a non-smoking state. They allow smoking in Indian gaming facilities, however, and even that posed a problem the time I arrived in a small town late at night and needed to get something to eat, and the only restaurant still open was in such a place, and it was completely open to the main floor. Their non-smoking section was a joke.

One time, I went on a trip with a friend. She asked me if it was all right for her to bring one of her friends. I didn't have any objections. What I didn't know, and found out later, is that her friend is a smoker, and I was forced to sit in the back seat next to her clothing which was full of smoke (thirdhand smoke, obviously), and when we stayed in a motel room (non-smoking), she hung her clothes right next to my bed. I imagine we violated the rules of the motel just by having her smoke-filled clothing in the room.

Smoker or Non-Smoker?

As a smoker or non-smoker, do you want smoking banned in places open to the public?

See results

Stop Smoking Books at Amazon

There are a gazillion books about stopping smoking on Amazon. I picked a few that look promising. I am not familiar with any of them because I never smoked. However, this is a good representative sample of what is available. I stayed away from things like using hypnosis because this can have negative spiritual consequences. I can't vouch for the methods being free of spiritual dangers, so please use discernment.

How To Stop Smoking And Stay Stopped For Good: fully revised and updated

by Gillian Riley

Only Way to Stop Smoking Permanently (Penguin Health Care & Fitness)

by Allen Carr

Stop Smoking Now

by Allen Carr

I Want To Stop Smoking . . . So Help Me God!: A Christian-Based Approach To Use When Quitting

by Judy Murphy Simpson

This looks the most promising of three with a Christian approach. Some denominations use legalism to ban smoking, so this is a concern.

Guestbook for smoking article - I'd like to hear your opinion

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I won't settle for anything less than a total ban on smoking.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @Bartukas: Thank you. I agree.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Smoking ciggarettes is very harmfull i think everyone should stop smoke :P

    • GiftsByDiana profile image

      Diana Burrell-Shipton 

      8 years ago from Hubbard, Ohio, USA

      @Pat Goltz: You are right about that. I make my own balms, sachets and other natural products. I started doing this to get away from the fake, harmful stuff and the real thing (flowers and herbs...) don't bother me at all. Now, if you have an allergy to a certain flower - don't use it :)

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @GiftsByDiana: I agree with you about perfumes. Most of them are made from toxic ingredients anyway. Natural perfumes might not be as much of a problem. I have a good friend who gets an asthma attack when she smells perfume. I think it's mainly because they make most of them from petroleum. Aromatherapy is supposed to be healthful and effective. I have my doubts about how effective it is, but it means that natural perfumes should be safe for most people.

    • GiftsByDiana profile image

      Diana Burrell-Shipton 

      8 years ago from Hubbard, Ohio, USA

      I smoked for years and finally quit over a decade ago. That year,as was doing my Spring cleaning, I was shocked at the extent of the yellow/brown ick that was on my walls, my curtains, and can just imagined how my poor lungs looked at that time :(

      I thought I was a careful, considerate smoker, but when I think back on those days, I am ashamed of my part in the polluting of our planet.

      As to the damage done to other people folks around us, perfume to me is worse than smke. Many perfumes give me a headache, but several of them take my breath away and make me very sick for hours Sometimes, I'll get a big whiff as someone asses by and it takes days for me to be able to breath well again. I can feel as if I almost had fluid in my lungs and can't get enough air :(

      So, I wish folks were more careful about all kind of pollution.

      Organically Yours,


    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @sukkran trichy: I totally agree with you. Smoking hurts everyone: the smoker, who is subject to nasty diseases, his family, who will lose him too soon, and the people who have to breathe his smoke. While it isn't necessarily the government's job to stop people from poisoning themselves, it IS the government's job to prohibit people from selling poisons to others. These things have to be defined very carefully, because governments like to ban wholesome and necessary things.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      8 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      scientific proofs show cigarette smoking is evil to the smokers as well as to those who inhaling second-hand smoke. it is a proven fact. marijuana is made illegal, but cigarettes are not. Cigarettes are much harmful than other drugs. smoking is illegal, but the cigarettes are legal! what a wonderful law! our irresponsible governments let their natives continue to poison themselves and do nothing about this thing. Bhutan is a small country, but it is the only nation in the world totally made illegal the farming, and trading of tobacco and tobacco products like cigarettes. we need total ban on cigarettes and smoking.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @MariaMontgomery: Thank you. I will check out your lens. I'd like to know the difference, too.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I really agree with a lot of the things you're saying here. I spend a lot of time on the street in Philadelphia, because I like to walk to get places in the city, and I find that there is a lot of cigarette smoke, and it can get to be very unpleasant at times. It's one thing when someone is in a sparsely populated rural area, smoking away from people...but smoking in a crowded pedestrian area in a city is I think making a huge imposition in people. And I think it goes without saying that smoking indoors is even worse.

    • MariaMontgomery profile image


      8 years ago from Coastal Alabama, USA

      You have some very good points. As a public health educator, I enjoyed reading this lens. You may find my lens on the difference between secondhand smoke and sidestream smoke interesting and surprising. I did not have time to read your entire lens, but have bookmarked it to finish latter.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @ratetea: Thank you so much! Yes, I agree. Smoking in a crowd is definitely a no-no. Smoking around other people outside is a no-no. The reason we get smoking laws in the first place is because people are so inconsiderate.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you. A lot of people who still smoke don't like being around other people's smoke, either.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I can say that as an ex-smoker, I really don't like to be around cigarette some anymore. It just feels unhealthy.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @junecampbell: Congratulations on quitting smoking! Thank you for the kind words. The only concern I have about smoking in one's home is subjecting children to the smoke. However, we don't have a right to have government invade the home to do anything about it. I'm still thinking about a possible answer.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 

      8 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Where I live, smoking has been banned in public places for awhile now. Given that the harmful effects of second hand smoke are proven, I think banning smoking in public areas is the right thing to do. Of course what one does in the comfort of their own home is a different story. I am a former smoker. I smoked two packs a day until quitting in 1987.

    • Pat Goltz profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Goltz 

      8 years ago

      @DeboraR: It seems to be the case that some people don't demonstrate any problems. I grew up in a smoke-free household, and I react. I think perhaps if you are around it enough, you may not have any symptoms. Congratulations on quitting, and thank you for the wonderful comment.

    • DeboraR profile image


      8 years ago

      As a former smoker (last cigarette 1988) I agree and disagree with your article. I come from a family of smokers, so not only have I been exposed to second hand smoke all my life I too picked up the habit. I'm 51 and not had any issues from smoking affects. I do believe smokers should respect non-smokers. Like you stated, they can wait a few more minutes to light up. Having been on both sides of the issue I can't really pick one side over the other. However, as with most things in life there is a responsibility to others when in public.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I completely agree with you. These are some helpful ideas I can use.


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