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Why Should Smoking Be Banned in Public?

Smoking is one of the major causes of death in the world. Cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are associated with prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke. Many countries have stringent laws that prohibit smoking in public because of its negative health effects. The major argument for the implementation of such laws is that secondary smokers suffer the debilitating effects of inhaling polluted air against their will. This is a controversial debate in many states because tobacco consumption has several economic benefits and smoking in public places is an expression of people’s freedom. However, it is more harmful than beneficial. Smoking should be banned in public because of its serious health consequences, environmental pollution, and the portrayal of the habit as worthy of emulation.

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One of the main arguments to support the banning of smoking in public is the negative health effects of secondhand smoke. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco smoke contains approximately 4,000 chemicals, of which 250 cause health complications and 50 are associated with cancer (as cited in Rodgman & Perfetti, 2016). Smoking in public exposes both smokers and non-smokers to these harmful chemicals. The organization also estimates that about 700 million children around the world inhale air that is contaminated with tobacco smoke (Heffernan, 2016). Government statistics revealed that in 2004, more than 30% of deaths attributed to second hand smoke involved children (Krosnick et al., 2019). The health effects of tobacco in adults include respiratory diseases, cardiovascular complications, and sudden death syndrome. Women who are exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy give birth to low-weight babies (Krosnick et al., 2019). This is evidence that tobacco smoke is harmful to both children and adults.

The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states that the three major effects of exposure to tobacco smoke are disease, death, and disability (Rodgman & Perfetti, 2016). The organization recommends the implementation of laws that protect the public from second-hand smoke. Research has shown that the temporary effects of exposure to tobacco smoke include nausea, headaches, and breathing difficulties (Heffernan, 2016). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that the risk of a heart attack from inhaling tobacco for a period of at least 30 minutes is similar for both smokers and non-smokers. This risk is higher for people with immunocompromised immune systems (Krosnick et al., 2019). It is evident that tobacco smoke has both short-term and long-term health implications that can be avoided by making public places smoke-free.

Smoking in public is one of the most ignored sources of pollution. Studies have provided evidence of the social concern for cigarette littering due to smoking in public places, and the mounting support for bans. A study conducted by Basto-Abreu et al. (2016) in Baja California, Mexico revealed that 45% of all cigarettes smoked were improperly disposed because they were thrown on the ground. According to the study’s findings, the researchers estimated that about 27 million cigarette butts litter the environment (Basto-Abreu et al., 2016). The study’s sample comprised 800 adults from Baja, California. The majority of the participants (98%) perceived smoking as a negative habit that should be controlled through bans (Basto-Abreu et al., 2016).

According to the WHO, cigarette butts are classified as toxic hazardous waste that should be properly disposed (Loddenkemper & Kreuter, 2015). Smoking poses challenges for disposal regulations because more than 5 trillion cigarettes are smoked around the world every year, the majority of which are improperly disposed (Basto-Abreu et al., 2016). For example, they are thrown on the ground or thrown in dustbins without regard for their toxicity and effect on the environment (Loddenkemper & Kreuter, 2015). A report released by Keep America Beautiful indicated that 30% of waste material along shorelines and on land is comprised of cigarette butts (Heffernan, 2016). These pieces are made up of three components: a paper wrap, a filter, and tobacco. Each of these components presents a different environmental concern.

For instance, filters undergo slow degradation (Loddenkemper & Kreuter, 2015). Therefore, they accumulate and form a mass of toxic waste that has serious health effects. Smoking is one of the major causes of air pollution, as it is responsible for 10 times the amount of gases produced by the diesel car exhaust. Tobacco is more dangerous than diesel because it produces particulate matter, which has been greatly reduced in cars due to improved technologies (Basto-Abreu et al., 2016). One of the dangers of pollution is its effect on health. Studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke and the particulate matter associated with it increase asthma symptoms and compromises proper lung function (Heffernan, 2016). Their proinflammatory qualities increase lower airway inflammation in asthma patients (West, 2017).

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoke-free laws serve two major functions. First, they help tobacco smokers to quit and fight their addictions (Anyanwu, Craig, Katikireddi, & Green, 2018). According to a study by Mayne et al. (2018) published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that the risk of smoking drops among college graduates when they live close to areas that have smoking bans. The researchers established a relationship between bans and gains in attempts to quit smoking (Mayne et al., 2018). They also found out that the bans were effective at helping people with higher levels of education quit than people with lower education levels. For instance, smoking lowered by 20% among college graduates (Mayne et al., 2018). Another advantage of banning smoking in public places is that it reduces the risk of individuals becoming heavy smokers (Anyanwu et al., 2018). In areas where bans were introduced, people smoked less than 10 cigarettes a day and reduction in smoking levels was only observed among people with a bachelor’s degree (Mayne et al., 2018).

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The influence of the bans among low-income people involved the likelihood of quitting. Research has shown that individuals with lower education levels experience more exposure to secondhand smoke compared to those with higher levels of education (Loddenkemper & Kreuter, 2015). The study did not establish a positive relationship between bans and the risk of smoking. However, they were beneficial in motivating them to try to quit. Second, they prevent the initiation of children and young adults into tobacco smoking. Studies have shown the effectiveness of smoking bans in reducing the prevalence of smoking in workplaces and other public areas. Imitation is one of the ways that children use to acquire knowledge and experience. In that regard, they copy the behaviors of adults and act them out. Smoking in public sets a bad example for children who perceive the activity as fun and healthy, and that should be emulated (Loddenkemper & Kreuter, 2015).

Opponents of banning smoking in public argue that smoke-free laws will impinge on people’s freedom, reduce collections in government taxes, and destroy businesses. They maintain that since smoking is not a crime, it should not be banned or limited in any way. The tobacco industry contributed greatly to the nation’s economy. Therefore, bans will lower sales and the industry’s tax contributions. They also argue that bans will destroy businesses carried out by farmers and manufacturers as sales will plummet due to the loss of customers. These arguments are misleading because non-smokers have a right to enjoy healthy spaces and protection from secondhand smoke (West, 2017). It is unethical for smokers to expose other people to tobacco smoke. The argument that bans will lower taxes is invalid because smoking causes health complications that are expensive to treat (West, 2017). Therefore, bans will lower health care costs, as fewer people will be treated for smoking-related illnesses.

Tobacco smoking is one of the main preventable causes of diseases and deaths around the world. Many states in the United States have implemented smoke-free public places laws in order to protect the public from the effects of secondhand smoke. Smoking should be banned in public because it causes negative health outcomes, encourages littering and environmental pollution, and promotes smoking among children and adolescents. The health effects of exposure to tobacco smoke include stroke, coronary heart disease, lung cancer, pulmonary disease, and miscarriage. Poorly disposed cigarette butts are a major source of air, water, and land pollution. Opponents of smoking in public bans argue that they will infringe on people’s freedom, lower tax contributions, and affect businesses negatively. However, these arguments are flawed as Americans have a right to a clean environment and healthy public places. The health care costs associated with tobacco smoking are larger than the tax collected from the tobacco industry. Banning smoking in public places should be encouraged because it will improve public health, lower pollution, and help addicts quit.


Anyanwu, P. E., Craig, P., Katikireddi, S. V., & Green, M. J. (2018). Impacts of smoke-free public places legislation on inequalities in youth smoking uptake: Study protocol for a secondary analysis of UK survey data. BMJ Open, 8(3), 1-7.

Basto-Abreu, A. C., Christine, P. J., Zepeda-Tello, R., Romero-Martinez, M., Duque, J. I., Reynales,-Shigematsu, L., & Barrientos-Gutierrez, T. (2016). Behaviors and opinion towards outdoor smoking bans and cigarette littering in Baja California, Mexico. Health Policy and Planning, 31(3), 309-313.

Heffernan, T. (2016, August). The impact of active and passive smoking upon health and neurocognitive function (Editorial). Front Psychiatry, 7.

Krosnick, J. A., Malhotra, N., Mo, C. H., Bruera, E. F., Chang, L., Pasek, J., & Thomas, R. K. (2019). Perceptions of health risks of cigarette smoking: A new measure reveals widespread misunderstanding. PLOS One, 14(2), 344-356.

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Loddenkemper, R., & Kreuter, M. (Eds.). (2015). The tobacco epidemic. New York, NY: Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers.

Mayne, L. S., Auchincloss, A. H., Tabb, L. P., Stehr, M., Shikany, J. M., Schreiner, P. J., … Widome, R. (2018). Associations of bar and restaurant smoking bans with smoking behavior in the CARDIA study: A 25-year study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 187(6), 1250-1258.

Rodgman, A., & Perfetti, T. A. (2016). The chemical components of tobacco and tobacco smoke (2nd ed.). New York, NY: CRC Press.

West, R. (2017). Tobacco smoking: Health impact, prevalence, correlates and interventions. Psychology & Health, 32(8), 1018-1036.

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