Editorial: Let’s clear the air on public smoking debate

WHICHEVER way you look at it, this year’s Bendigo Easter Festival was nothing short of an outrageous success.

A range of attractions combined with perfect weather to produce bumper crowds and, most importantly, an abundance of community spirit. Yet, an unmistakable stench hung over proceedings.

Wherever you went – be it to the torchlight parade, the awakening of Sun Loong, the music in Bull Street or the gala parade – the smell of cigarette smoke followed.

To say this ruined the experience would be to somewhat overstate it, but there is no doubt a lot people felt the presence of burning tobacco detracted from the family-friendly atmosphere.

City of Greater Bendigo councillor Yvonne Wrigglesworth took to social media after the gala parade to express her dismay at the number of people smoking along the route.

She said she felt strongly enough about the issue to raise the possibility with her council colleagues of enacting a ban of smoking at public events, as well as introducing designated smoking areas.

Judging by the results of a poll on the Bendigo Advertiser website, such moves would have the support of a majority of residents.

But would it be fair?

Already forced to the fringes of society, smokers have become modern-day pariahs.

The hostility smokers face every time they legally light up would have every other minority group crying foul.

However, this persecution is actively encouraged by governments, health groups and the powerful anti-smoking lobby as a way of de-normalising smoking and encouraging addicts to quit.

Contrary to popular belief, most smokers do try to be considerate of those around them and, if they are out in public, go to great lengths to minimise the impact of their smoke on others.

If those advocating for further restrictions on smokers’ rights are using concerns over passive smoking as the foundation of their campaign, then it is largely spurious.

Would the second-hand smoke inhaled along the route of the torchlight procession be any more harmful than the emissions from the vehicles taking part in the event? Not likely.

But if we, as a community, decide the comfort of the majority at public events trumps the rights of a minority of smokers, then that is deserving of discussion.

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor