Right to breathe may erode right to reside

As of today, it’s illegal for residents of Belmont, Calif. who live in apartments – or any other building that shares walls with neighboring buildings – to smoke in their homes or cars.

Granted, smoking is tantamount to courting cancer, but is there a limit to legislative control of a person’s environment? The ramifications are interesting, particularly for a college campus that features a lot of shared air, drifting smoke and young smokers who are newly able to stand up for their rights as full citizens.

As recently as last September, a series of smoking bans were enacted in Houston, including a hotly-contested ban in local bars.

The University is smoke-free as a public facility in Texas. However UH goes a step further to help our populace stay smoke-free. We host the Texas Smoke-Free Ordinance Database online as part of the Health Network for Evaluation and Training Systems, or HNETS. The database is searchable by community and pulls up a listing of the type of legislation in effect for a given area including fines and enforcement information.

The question of smoking has become a hot spot, not of public health, but of civil liberties. Cigarette smoke exacerbates asthma and other respiratory ailments and allergies, is a known carcinogen and significantly heightens the risk of fire in group-living situations. There is no reason to encourage it on a college campus or anywhere else, but banning what retirees do in their homes seems to cross a line.

The housing establishment where the petition began is subsidized with federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, making the precedent easily extensible to other federally subsidized institutions. Legislation against behavior that is harmful to one’s neighbors is a part of the social contract we share, but there are limits to how far one’s rights may be abridged in the name of the many. This may not be that line, but there seems to be an overkill factor in the extremity of the legislation.

The Daily Cougar does not encourage smoking. The concern we have is for the invasiveness of Belmont’s legislative push against it.

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