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The personal freedom to smoke

Yesterday, someone said to me over AIM, “its up to smokers if they wanna kill themselves”. The idea would appear to be that you have the personal freedom to do what you like in your life. To an extent, I believe that is true. Everyone has their own life to lead, and their own decisions to make, as they see fit. However, there is something missing from that idea: we don’t live alone.

Most of us live amongst other people; we have friends, family, and fellow students or co-workers. We pass by people in the street. We drive by them on the roads or sit by them on the bus. Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others.

The problem with freedom is that as we don’t live isolated from other people, the decisions we make in our lives will inevitably affect the lives of others. While we might be free to live our lives as we please, only truly selfish people will ignore the effects we have on others’ lives.

Smoking is one activity whose effects are not limited to one’s own life. If someone dies of smoking, they will rob their friends and families of a loved one – my uncle has had to live through the premature death of his wife from lung cancer. Even worse, smoking can lead to the death of someone else – the musician Roy Castle died of cancer not because he smoked, but due to passive smoking. Every smoker whose fumes he inhaled had a part in his death.

In Britain, the National Health Service is under a great deal of strain. Consider how that strain would decrease if they stopped having to deal with patients whose presence in hospital was wholly unnecessary. Such people include those whose illness is brought on by smoking. There are a lot more people in hospital for reasons other than accidents and natural causes attributable to the limitations of the human body. As well as smokers, these include drug users, car accident victims where the cause of the accident was inconsiderate driving, crime victims, people with poor diets, and so forth. The NHS could offer more attention to those whose problems are inevitable, if they didn’t need to help those who cause their own problems or whose problems are caused by other people.

The law covers many of those issues above, but smoking is not one of them. People are entitled to choose to smoke, and if it were something that had no effect on others’ lives, then it would be easier to consider it to be their choice in life (although smoking is hardly an advisable activity as it is). Nevertheless, smoking affects other people, so free or not to smoke, their lives should be taken into account. If I didn’t have to breathe in others’ smoke, that alone would be a nice change.

As it is, I take a deep breath before the smoke reaches me, and wait for it to pass, but I’d rather not have to go to that trouble, nor the alternative of getting a lungful of carcinogenic chemicals instead. However, other people have been affected a lot more adversely than me.

Personal freedom may be every person’s right, but with it should come the responsibility to use that freedom with wisdom and consideration.

As an aside: do people who are dying of lung cancer from smoking decline treatment and willingly accept the death they took upon themselves, or do they struggle for survival with the aid of treatment?

Daniel Beardsmore, 11th October 2002 (corrected on Saturday 3rd May 2003)
Comments? Send them to the author.