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It is well-known that cigarette smoking is dangerous to one’s health; thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from the effects of smoking, and millions more live on in ruined health with crippled lungs and overstrained hearts.(Brodish 1999) Nonsmokers often question the rationality of smoking at public places in light of these enormous health risks: Why engage in an activity that will ruin your health and perhaps eventually kill you?This inconvenience to smokers, which is often viewed as a harm to smokers, is asymmetrically related to the harm caused to nonsmokers; it is the smokers who are doing something to the nonsmokers, while the reverse is not true.
The focus of paper, is on the so-called right to smoke, and what role it should play in the development of a just public policy regarding smoking, whatever that policy may be.
Background It is important that this distinction between activity and passivity not be confused with the more controversial distinction between doing something to another and letting something happen to another.
The right to be free from harm is in some sense more basic than the rights one may have to perform certain activities.
This “harm principle” is perhaps the fundamental liberty-limiting principle.
Such a policy, paper will argue, is likely to have as its consequence the elimination of nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke.
The paper will at the end explore several policy considerations that might lead to the elimination of exposure to secondhand smoke.Since the nonsmokers have to breathe the smoky air they had no part in producing, the smokers are doing something to the non-smokers.Since both the smokers and the nonsmokers have equal right to be present in the room, the nonsmokers stand to smokers as victims stand to those who shoot them.Smoke is annoying when one would simply prefer not to breathe it.This is an offense to, or intrusion upon, the nonsmoker, rather than an obvious harm, so it is unlikely that we are going to get a straightforward application of the harm principle.We must therefore be very careful to examine specific features of the situations in which this offense arises; only in this way will we be able to determine if annoyance is sufficient to militate against the moral right to smoke. Here the rights of property ownership and autonomy give weight to one’s preferences beyond what they might otherwise enjoy.Should someone be smoking in a nonsmoker’s home, the smoker surely must respect the nonsmoker’s preference to be free from secondhand smoke.There are at least three levels on which smoking may harm nonsmokers.The first involves the distasteful odor of cigarette smoke, in the air and in the clothes and hair of even nonsmokers, who are in the same room as a smoker, let us call this the level of annoyance.In this respect, smoking is no different from other activities one simply does not want performed in one’s own home.But suppose that the smoker is a friend, a business associate, or a superior.