Every year, it gets a little harder to be a smoker. Successive governments have ratcheted pack prices further upwards – another hike is on the way if Bill Shorten is elected, and the Coalition may follow the same path.
The way things are going, future treasurers and finance ministers will indulge in a decadent puff on a cigarette instead of a cigar before handing down a federal budget.
The places where you’re allowed to puff away are constantly being reduced, too. In 2017, Victoria will become the last state to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas, and in NSW, you can’t smoke within four metres of the door to any building open to the public.
Smokers are being treated like social outcasts – although not criminals, because if they were in correctional facilities, they’d discover that a number of jurisdictions have banned smoking there, too.
Of course, unlike most endangered species, smokers are being driven from their preferred habitats for their own good. Governments are trying to encourage existing smokers to quit, as well as discouraging anyone else from taking it up. Furthermore, in recent years, it’s been recognised that third parties shouldn’t have to inhale second-hand smoke, which is why so many workers in pubs and clubs have been spared the thick fogs that used to typify their workplaces.
Quit Victoria has made the news this week with a proposal for the next step of restrictions in that state. The anti-smoking group wants to ban smoking in the home – or at least, in apartment blocks where thebody corporate resolves to create a smoke-free building.
NSW has taken steps towards cracking down on smoke in strata schemes already – the Government has flagged changes to its model by-laws to deal with smoke drift. It’s worth noting that this wouldn’t restrict a building’s power to decide one way or another – it merely provides a guideline unless amended. Nevertheless, it’s clear which way the wind is blowing.
Impeding people’s rights within their own dwellings is a bold step. Quit Victoria’s director, Dr Sarah White, acknowledges that people view their homes as a castle, where they get to control what’s going on, but points out that it cuts both ways.
“We need to have mechanisms that will help people who don’t smoke make sure their castle remains smoke-free,” she says.
I’m not entirely sure how illustrative the castle analogy is, since from my limited understanding of history, castles aren’t built besides and on top of one another, don’t have common ventilation between one keep and another and tend to experience smoke only when invading armies torch them.
But the word captures the way we feel about our homes, and the pleasure we get from having one little corner of the planet where what we say goes. Our rights over our domains should not be yielded without careful consideration.
If adopted in a building, these new rules would require smokers not just to step onto their balcony for a quick puff, as many do now, but to take the lift down and walk a few steps away, to a position where their smoke can safely dissipate into the atmosphere. I can imagine smokers getting utterly enraged by the inconvenience – after all, their habit makes them irritable to begin with.
While I’m sure very few would seriously argue that the product would be legalised if introduced today, as things stand, cigarettes are allowed to be sold, and there’s no serious proposal to change that. And this means that smokers have rights. Their bodies are their own, and if people want to mainline known carcinogens, then the only thing stopping them is common sense and unambiguous medical advice.
Dr White is right, though, that these rights need to be balanced. As an asthmatic, the right not to breathe second-hand smoke is important to me, since the ability to breathe freely is not something I take for granted. It frustrates me that people with normal breathing choose to jeopardise this by boarding the slow train to emphysema, but that’s their decision. As countless eyelid piercings have shown, we get the right to make foolish decisions with our bodies.
Australia has long led the world in public policies which combat smoking, and we should be proud of this. Getting to the point where nobody takes it up is a worthy public policy goal. But surely there needs to be some respect for the rights of individuals in their own homes. If your smoke doesn’t impact on other residents, I really wonder whether a body corporate has any business telling you otherwise.
This is not an unusual approach within strata schemes. There are all kinds of restrictions on residents, who may not make excessive noise that disturbs other residents, for instance. Interference with other people’s “peaceful enjoyment” of their own “castles” is the yardstick used, at least in the NSW legislation.
So while I should have the right to be protected from your smoke, I believe that stopping you from smoking at all seems an interference too far. Perhaps if new buildings are constructed as smoke-free, the units could be sold only to non-smokers, in the same way that certain developments are designated for retirement-age residents only. In existing schemes, though, I suspect that owners’ corporations shouldn’t interfere with people’s quiet, peaceful destructions of their own respiratory systems.
But if I catch so much as a whiff of anybody’s second-hand smoke circulating through my apartment, I’ll complain so quickly that they’ll barely have time to extinguish the ciggie before a sternly-worded form letter from the strata manager arrives on their doorstep.