Some decisions are personal. Others are played out on a community-wide scale. But, what happens when personal decisions impact others in the community? Ah - that's where the conflict begins.
The rights of smokers to fill their lungs with toxic smoke has always been a given. What has often been in dispute is the right of non-smokers to place limits on the locales in which smokers may exhale. There really hasn't been any argument about where smokers can inhale - that's the private part of the matter. But, when they exhale, it quickly becomes a community affair.
Scotland instituted a ban on smoking in public places in 2006. Fighting and fuming aside, there is a great deal to be learned from their experience. Since the ban went into effect heart attacks have fallen by 17 percent. And, most tellingly, it's the non-smokers who have shown the most significant reduction in heart attacks.
Researchers believe the reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke is the key. "The primary aim of smoking bans is to protect non-smokers from the effects of passive smoking," said Dr. Jill Pell of the University of Glasgow. "Previous studies have not been able to confirm whether or not that has been achieved."
The before and after figures are impressive. Prior to the smoking ban the rate of heart attacks had dropped by 4 percent in Scotland. Following the ban, the rates dropped by 14 percent for smokers, 19 percent for former smokers, and a stunning 21 percent for non-smokers. "This confirms that the legislation has been effective in helping non-smokers," said Pell.
Private habits and public policy? Sometimes their overlap is a breath of fresh air.