IT IS telling that of the five smokers the Globe interviewed regarding Boston’s proposed ban on smoking in parks, two were homeless (“Smoking ban nears in Boston parks,” Page A1, Nov. 27). While the smoking rate of affluent Americans has dropped, among low-income persons the rate remains high. Prohibiting smoking in parks, therefore, will most impose on the poor.
Virginia Berridge, a British historian of public health, has written that when a disapproved behavior becomes associated with the poor, medical officials employ punishment rather than persuasion. Over the last 20 years, the infliction of taxes, restrictions, and stigma on smokers, a large number of whom are poor, confirms Berridge’s observation.
In addition to the justification of discouraging smoking, ban proponents invoke the usual scare tactics regarding secondhand smoke. Studies purporting to show an increased disease risk from secondhand exposure, however, have been done on spouses sharing the same home for 30 or 40 years. Even under these circumstances the increased risk is small. The few studies of secondhand smoke exposure outside have demonstrated such exposure not even measurable.
Boston has one of the largest wealth disparities in the country. Banning smoking in its parks will, in effect, exile many of the poor. New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio decries New York being divided into two cities: one for the rich and the other for the poor. Boston’s park smoking ban divides Boston in exactly the same way.