New York City introduces outdoor smoking banCould the same happen in the UK?
New York City has extended its smoking ban in public places to cover 1700 parks, 14 miles of beaches, pedestrian plazas, boardwalks, golf courses and stadiums.
This follows on from a previous one in 2002 that banned smoking in bars, clubs and restaurants.
Hailed as a victory for the rights of non-smokers, it has been denounced by opponents as a curtailment of personal liberties and a precedent for banning smoking on pavements.
The smoking ban movement has advanced inexorably in the United States over the past two decades, and many countries have followed suit, the UK among them.
The UK ban on smoking in enclosed public places in 2006 and 2007 led to an outcry by smokers and publicans. However, the ban has been successful in both reducing second-hand smoke exposure, and cutting the number of smokers generally.
So will the UK now follow New York City's lead and ban outdoor smoking too?
If the momentum smoking bans have acquired is any indicator, it is likely more regulation is on its way.
It was greater public awareness of the negative health effects of secondary smoke that enabled the adoption of the original smoking ban.
Its success in cutting smoking - in the UK, in the first year of the ban 400,000 people quit - means there is a proven public health benefit to bans.
The tobacco industry carries limited political clout, is effectively banned from advertising in the UK, and has long shifted its commercial focus to the developing world, where there is less regulation.
New York City highlighted its ban with research that showed people sitting within one metre of a smoker are exposed to the same levels of second hand smoke indoors and outdoors.
This has been disputed by smokers, but even their arguments against blanket bans are now about civil liberties,rather than the health impact of secondary smoke.
If the New York city ban is implemented successfully and widely respected, it is likely the UK government will take note.
Already, some local councils in the UK have banned smoking in parks.
Additional restrictions on smoking in public may simply come from the momentum smoking bans have acquired, even if the additional health benefits are inconclusive.
This article was published on Tue 24 May 2011
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