All this talk of Toronto and Ontario expanding outdoor smoking ban makes me want a cigarette. And I don't even smoke.
Unlike a lot of smokers' rights advocates, I actually have very low tolerance for smoke. I blame my grandmother. She used to smoke in the car, which was a terrible combination with my tendency to get motion sick. The smell of certain brands of cigarettes still takes me back to being a six-year-old in the backseat of an unconscionably bouncy sedan, trying not to hurl. As it happens, at around the same time of my life, one of my parents' acquaintances came to our house for a visit and smoked a pipe throughout the entire evening, during which I was, coincidentally, suffering from the stomach flu.
So it's not a great leap to say that the smell of smoke almost literally makes me sick. I certainly associate it with needing to vomit. Seriously, all those grotesque high school health presentations about diseased lungs were unnecessary for me; I had no more desire to take up smoking than I did to get food poisoning.
The thing is, though, that there is something else that has always nauseated me even more than smoke: unjust rules. Fun fact: One of my most oft repeated phrases as a child was, "It's not fair." And "not fair" is how the recommendations from Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, strike me. He is suggesting extending the already extensive ban on smoking to include beaches, outdoor sports fields, public squares, parks and outdoor restaurant and bar patios.
Banning smoking is excessive in all of these venues. They're open air spots where smoke dissipates and people have plenty of room to spread out. Don't want your kids subjected to the guy smoking on the beach towel next to you? Do the same thing you'd do if you didn't like the smell of the hot dog he was eating or the sight of his inadequately sized Speedo. Move your towel. But at least with the public areas an argument can be made that the government gets more of a say in the environment because it has a mandate to make these areas open to all. (Of course, in this construction, "all" does not include active smokers.) Banning smoking in outdoor bar and restaurant patios is more irksome because it's impacting private areas that are by no means supposed to be appealing and open to all comers. If an innocent child is inhaling second-hand smoke at a busy sports-bar patio late on a Saturday night, the real problem lies with those who thought it wise to bring him there, not with the establishment's choice to allow smoking. Not everything is, or should be made, a public health issue.
The idea of banning smoking at all of these outdoor areas must also be put into context. In Ontario, it is currently illegal to smoke indoors in bars, restaurants and even private clubs. Smoking is banned in indoor workplaces. It's verboten on covered patios. On the homefront, smokers are encouraged to spare their fellow householders (and furniture) by refraining from lighting up in their own residences. So what's left? If you take away public outdoor spaces and private bar and restaurant patios, you're pretty much confining the poor slob who would just like to enjoy a smoke with his beer to setting up a picnic table on his own lawn. Is that really necessary? Or is it maybe a sign that the public health establishment is running out of things to ban and ways to make itself appear useful?
I'm inclined to favour the latter explanation when I hear quotes like this one from Mr. McKeown's report: "Images of people smoking in public places normalize smoking in the minds of children and youth." The report also harps on the "importance of role modelling a smoke-free lifestyle." I truly hope that we have not arrived at a juncture where setting a bad example for kids is grounds for making something illegal. But it seems we might have.
Next I expect calls for banning public soda consumption and public use of salt shakers. Warning: You know those public benches scattered around town? Although you think they're there for you to sit on, you'd be safer to use them as exercise props for step-ups and hurdle races. Then you'll be ready for when sitting on them like a schlub gets banned due to the fact that it normalizes being sedentary in the minds of children and youth. Which may be sooner than you think given how readily the government seems willing to move from "directly impacting someone else's health" to "setting a bad example" as a valid reason for making a behaviour off limits.
I will return to my opening point for a moment. I dislike second-hand smoke more than the average person. Yup, in many cases, it makes me want to puke. Yet I find this very easy to manage. I don't choose to hang out at outdoor bar patios that are overrun with chain smokers. If I am strolling in a park or on a beach and am bothered by smoke (which, incidentally, I cannot recall ever happening, perhaps due to the fact that these places are OUTSIDE), I can simply shuffle over to another spot.
Couldn't others adopt these very simple strategies for dealing with this supposed scourge of outdoor secondhand smoke? Oh, yeah...others shouldn't have to make any concessions at all because they are virtuous non-smokers. I sometimes forget about that little detail. On the one hand, these bans are framed as simple, straightforward health measures. On the other hand, I'm sure I'm not the only one who senses in them a moral scolding. I think they're in large part one big finger-wag at smokers for daring to defy the public health establishment's exhortations and advice. They're not so much safety measures as payback for being recalcitrant.
So, yes, I'm bothered by government using laws to finger-wag about self-care. Which is why talk of extending Toronto's smoking ban makes me want a cigarette. I want to be the one making decisions about my own health and habits. And I want others to be doing the same thing about their own health and habits too. Like a helicopter parent, the government is imposing its controlling hyper-presence upon us to keep us safe and solve all our problems, sometimes even before such problems even exist. But kids need room to experience hardship and make bad choices, otherwise they never learn to do anything for themselves. Citizens are the same way.
Even though smokers may believe taking a long drag on a cigarette can help to calm nerves, a British study published earlier this year suggests that <em>quitting</em> can actually decrease anxiety more over the long-term. "People who achieve abstinence experience a <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2013/01/02/smoking-quit-anxiety.html">marked reduction in anxiety</a> whereas those who fail to quit experience a modest increase in the long term," researchers wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry study, as reported by CBC News. Similarly, a 2010 study in the journal Addiction showed that <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/17/us-smoking-idUSTRE65G0CX20100617">perceived stress decreased</a> for people who quit smoking for a year after hospitalization for heart disease, Reuters reported.
Quitting the habit could dramatically <a href="http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=661533">decrease your risk of dental problems</a> like cavities and gum disease, and even more dangerous conditions like oral cancer, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HealthDay reported that <a href="http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=661533">compared with former smokers</a>, smokers have a 1.5-times higher risk of developing at least three oral health conditions.
Here's a bedroom-related reason to quit smoking: studies have suggested a link between smoking and decreased sex drives for both men <em>and</em> women. Studies published in 2008 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that nicotine can affect even <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17971108">nonsmoking men's</a> and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18331269">women's sexual arousal</a>. And if that's not enough to convince you, well, there's also <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/09/15/guys-quitting-smoking-makes-it-bigger-really/">this</a>.
If you want your skin to be at its best, then you're better off quitting cigarettes. WebMD points out that smoking <a href="http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/ss/slideshow-ways-smoking-affects-looks">affects skin tone</a>, promotes sagginess and, of course, causes those wrinkles around the lip area. However, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery notes that just a month-and-a-half after <a href="http://www.surgery.org/consumers/plastic-surgery-news-briefs/skin-quit-smoking-1031403">quitting smoking</a>, your skin will already begin to look better.
If you love your hair, maybe it's time to put the cigarettes down. Research has linked smoking with an increased risk of male pattern baldness. BBC News reported in 2007 on a Archives of Dermatology study, showing even after taking into account other hair-loss risk factors like age and race, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5413382.stm">heavy smoking</a> (at least 20 cigarettes daily) raised the risk of baldness. And a 2011 study showed that smoking, stress, drinking and genes were all<a href="http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/news/20110923/divorce-heavy-drinking-smoking-linked-to-hair-loss"> risk factors for baldness</a>, WebMD reported.
Here's a pretty good benefit: Stopping smoking could <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">make you a happier person</a>, according to research from Brown University. Researchers there found that smokers were <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">never happier</a> than when they were quitting smoking, even if they went back to smoking afterward. According to a <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">news release</a>: <blockquote> The most illustrative — and somewhat tragic — subjects were the ones who only quit temporarily. Their moods were clearly brightest at the checkups when they were abstinent. After going back to smoking, their mood darkened, in some cases to higher levels of sadness than before.</blockquote>
Stopping smoking may <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/women-stop-smoking-live-10-years-longer_n_2011804.html">help women live a decade longer</a> than they would have if they had continued lighting up, according to a 2012 study in The Lancet. Researchers also found that the more the women smoked, the higher their risk of premature death, with even "light" smokers (those who smoked just one to nine cigarettes a day) having a doubled risk of death compared with non-smokers. "If women smoke like men, they die like men -- but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will on average <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/l-soa102312.php">gain about an extra ten years of life</a>," study researcher Professor Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, said in a statement.
If you're trying to conceive, one of the best things you can do is to quit smoking, research shows. NBC News reported that women smokers have a 60 percent <a href="http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/16874634/ns/today-today_health/t/trying-conceive-quit-smoking/#.UOr-7onjlU4">higher chance of being infertile</a>, compared with nonsmokers. Smoking is also linked to more spontaneous miscarriages, according to NBC News.
If you <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=8427779#.UOsAFInjlU4">don't like bland food</a>, then don't smoke, research suggests. A small 2009 study of Greek soldiers shows an association between smoking and <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/bc-stf081809.php">"fewer and flatter" taste buds</a>, according to a statement on the research.
Mild cold symptoms could take on a more serious form for smokers, according to a study from Yale University researchers. The findings, published in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, showed an <a href="http://news.yale.edu/2008/07/24/study-shows-why-cigarette-smoke-makes-flu-other-viral-infections-worse">overreaction of the immune systems</a> of cigarette smoke-exposed mice when exposed to a virus similar to the flu. "The anti-viral responses in the cigarette smoke exposed mice were not only not defective, but were hyperactive," study researcher Dr. Jack A. Elias, M.D., said in a statement. "These findings suggest that smokers do not get in trouble because they can't clear or<a href="http://news.yale.edu/2008/07/24/study-shows-why-cigarette-smoke-makes-flu-other-viral-infections-worse"> fight off the virus</a>; they get in trouble because they overreact to it."
Eletta Hansen explains some facts about smoking, and discusses how much money will you save if you quit smoking
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