Smoking Is Not a Right

People have a right to be who they are. They have a right to access safe and affordable health care. People have the right to practice their religion, vote for the candidates they choose, marry the person they love, live in a safe place, and get an education.

But I call b.s. on people thinking that smoking is a right.

No one has a right to make other people sick. You don't have a right to become a burden on the health care system, or a right to ruin peoples' meals, make others cough, or drive people away from public spaces. No one has a right to make the parking deck impassable or finding a seat in an outdoor café impossible. No one has a right to take break after break throughout the workday while everyone else stays on task. No one has a right to give their children cancer.

A study co-authored by Rob Crane of the College of Medicine and Eric Seiber of the College of Public Health, both at Ohio State, and Mehmet Munur of the Columbus law firm Tsibouris & Associates, found that if employees take the equivalent of two 15-minute smoke breaks a day, it costs their employers $3,077 per year. It also concluded that in terms of health care, the excess costs of smokers are around $2,055 per year for employers because of smokers’ higher rates of lung disease, heart disease, various cancers, and other illnesses.

According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease; 3,400 lung cancer deaths; worse asthma and asthma-related problems in up to 1 million asthmatic children; and between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months old (7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations a year). Secondhand smoke costs the health care system more than $10 billion per year.

Smoking may not be illegal. But that does not make it a right. It’s a burden to everyone, the smoker and non-smoker alike, and there’s no excuse for partaking. If someone, somehow feels that he or she simply must smoke, then that person must insure that no one else is affected in any way — from the smell, to the secondhand smoke. They should not rely on health insurance to pay for the results. They must work longer hours to make up for their breaks. When it comes to others, they must make it as if they aren’t smoking at all.

Smoking is not a right. Breathing clear air, however, is. It’s an inalienable right, and it’s a right that demands protection.