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Jencunas: Conservative Case for the Downtown Smoking Ban

Friday, July 31, 2015


As a conservative, I have a healthy skepticism toward government trying to force its preferences onto citizens. There’s a big difference between encouraging healthy behavior and taking away people’s choices because the government thinks it knows best. The latter is the misplaced moralism of prohibition, the so-called “noble experiment” of the 1920s that was supposed to make the poor prosperous and the working class docile, but ended up only enriching gangsters and eroding social order. Conservatism, properly understood, opposes these attempts to remove personal responsibility in favor of micromanaging citizens’ lives.

Despite all this, I support the proposed smoking ban for Downtown Providence. The ban doesn’t outlaw smoking or force people to give up their vice, it simply regulates where people can smoke so they don’t harm others. If enacted, the proposal would prohibit smoking in an approximately one mile area downtown. This is a good public policy because smoking isn’t just a personal choice – second hand smoke hurts everyone, not just the person choosing to smoke.

Everyone agrees smoking is harmful. It’s the leading cause of lung cancer and can lead to heart disease, bronchitis, and many other illnesses. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, around 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimates that $170 billion is spent on medical care for illnesses caused by smoking.

No matter how harmful smoking is, it shouldn’t be outlawed. Living in a free society means that people have a right to put themselves in an early grave. What they don’t have is a right to harm others. That’s what the proposed smoking ban for Downtown Providence does – prevents unwilling pedestrians and downtown workers from being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke.

There are secondary benefits too: the decreased litter would make downtown more pleasant for residents and workers alike; Providence would be a national leader in preventing harmful exposure to second-hand smoke; and downtown business owners believe it would help attract more businesses. But even if it did none of those things, the proposal would be worth passing simply for the public health benefits.

Second-hand smoke is obviously far less harmful for someone than actually smoking. It’s still dangerous though, causing 7,000 cancer deaths each year according to the American Cancer Society. For children, the effects are particularly bad, as even small amounts of second-hand smoke can worsen illnesses like the flu and bronchitis for young patients.

Smokers are making a choice to harm themselves. Pedestrians downtown who are exposed to second-hand smoke aren’t making that choice, and are instead victims of other people’s harmful behavior. It’s unintentional on the part of smokers, but that doesn’t make it less dangerous. Protecting people from involuntary, harmful exposure to cancerous second-hand smoke is a responsibility of government. It’s similar to how we expect the government to protect us from toxins in our drinking water.

Providence will still have plenty of places to smoke if this law is passed. Cigar bars will still be found throughout the city. I’ll continue to go to them when I feel like a cigar. But I, and everyone else who goes in, will be making a choice to harm ourselves. People who don’t want to be exposed to smoke should also be able to make that choice. They shouldn’t have their choices taken away simply because some people think they have a right to smoke anywhere they want.

Brian Jencunas works as a communications and media consultant. He can be reached at [email protected] and always appreciates reader feedback.


Related Slideshow: 10 Tips to Finally Quit Smoking

Here are 10 tips to help you quit smoking. 

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Pick a Date

Pick a quit date and put it on your calendar in ink— this is the starting point to making your plan.  Pretty much all of the experts agree that picking a date is the most important first step.  The key is to pick a date that is no more than one month away — if it is too far out, you will either lose your will or rationalize your way into an extension, and if it is too soon i.e. the nefarious tomorrow, you will only fail for lack of planning.  Everything that follows should be set up to make that quit date a success.

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Be honest with yourself.  Admit that you are an addict.  Own up to the seriousness and the entirety of your addiction.  If you are lying to yourself about how strong your addiction is, you won’t properly prepare yourself for quitting.  Instead you’ll set yourself up for failure.  Pay attention to how much you truly smoke — write it down, and prepare yourself to move on.

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Write down your triggers. One of the keys to successful quitting is to be thoroughly prepared for the things that set you off. Do you always smoke when you drink?  Every time you have a stressful encounter with your partner do you smoke to calm down?  By cataloging the things that get you jonesing for a cigarette, you will be able to systematically prepare other options for handling those situations.

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Plan Ahead

Plan for your triggers.  When the urge strikes and is overwhelming, what will you do instead of bumming or buying cigarettes?  Take up knitting so you have something to do with your hands.  Keep carrot sticks with you so you have something to munch on.  Munch on sunflower seeds.  Have a friend you can call.  Take a walk. Make sure you always have something on hand that you can use to distract you until the urge passes (and trust that it will pass).   

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Watch the Clock

In the week leading up to your quit date, begin to break your habit by smoking by the clock instead of by situation.  Most smokers smoke during or after certain events: the first cigarette when you wake up, a cigarette on the drive to work, a cigarette after lunch, another before the conference call and so on.  For this week parcel out your cigarettes according to the clock.  For instance, allow yourself one cigarette every two hours beginning at 6:00 am.  Stick to this within 5 minutes on either side.  If you wake up at 6:06, you missed your first cigarette and have to wait until 8:00.  If you miss your noon cigarette you must wait until 2:00 and so on.  It is the habit of smoking, the mental association between your tasks and stressors and smoking that is the hardest to break.  Doing this gives you a head start.  

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Get Support

Get support. For some of you that may mean talking to your doctor about medication or using the patch.  For others that may mean using acupuncture and herbs.  For some of you it will mean all of the above.  Both methods have much higher success rates at producing quitters than if you quit on your own.  There are also support groups and hotlines that offer instant help when you need it most.  Here are a few places to start:


Call your doctor or find an acupuncturist so they can help you with your plan.

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Avoid Your Other Vices

Avoid alcohol, smoking pot and other situations that you associate with smoking for 4-6 weeks while the quitting is the most difficult.  

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Throw Away the Past

The night before you quit get rid of your cigarettes, ash trays and lighters.  You need to make it at least moderately difficult to smoke. Quit carrying the cash you use to buy cigarettes. Avoid the store you stop at for a candy bar and cigarettes. Basically, put up as many obstacles as you can to smoking.

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Avoid Certain People

Avoid the people who trigger you (as much as possible).  If they are friends they will understand, and if they are jerks you should avoid them anyway.

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Treat Yourself

Give yourself rewards for quitting.  The most obvious is to take the money you would have spent on cigarettes and buy yourself a weekly or monthly celebratory treat. Somedays this might be the only thing that keeps you going.


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