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The Big Debate: Should Smoking be Banned on Brighton Beach?

While Brighton and Hove Council considers banning smoking on its famous beach, The Badger asks whether the plan ought to, or not, go ahead…

Yes – Daniel Green

The proposed ban on smoking along Brighton beach is not, as some may argue, an attack on civil liberties. Instead, it is a natural extension of the Council’s existing ban on smoking in playgrounds across Brighton.

It is widely accepted that exposure to second-hand smoke poses a significant health risk, especially for children and pregnant women, who can suffer from lung infections, asthma and miscarriage. During the summer months, when many flock to the seafront, it can be impossible to avoid second-hand smoke.

Why should families who want to bring their children to the beach have to put up with a small minority who want to blow harmful toxic chemicals into the air? Turning Brighton’s beachfront smoke-free would not only improve air quality but also reduce litter. Cigarette butts which are discarded do not degrade quickly and instead harm local wildlife and leech carcinogens into the ocean.

Many have claimed that the voluntary nature of the proposed ban would make such a move impotent. However, the current bans on smoking in playgrounds are also on a voluntary basis and are widely accepted by parkgoers. In addition, a poll conducted in July found that a plurality of residents agree with the proposals, with 48% believing that such a move would make the town a more attractive place to visit.

Pro-smoking organisations, such as FOREST, have protested that extending the smoking ban is ‘illiberal’ and infringes upon their rights. However, those who don’t smoke also have the right not to be put at risk by second-hand smoke.

Additionally, pro-rights campaigners have claimed that it is wrong to ‘de-normalise’ smoking as it is not an illegal act. However, I would argue that smoking has already been de-normalised because of the very fact that smokers are now in the minority and have been for a long time.

Furthermore, the beach smoking ban would help smokers by increasing the pressure on them to quit and they would no doubt be thankful in the long-term. Indeed, surveys have shown that the majority of smokers want to quit, so why shouldn’t the council proactively encourage them to do so by limiting the areas in which they can light up?

Finally, the beach smoking ban should be implemented without delay in order to improve the health of Brighton’s citizens and visitors and also to send out the right message to thousands of children and young people who deserve to grow up in a smoke-free environment.

No – Daniel Stuart

The benefits of a beach smoking ban are obvious. Preventing the problems of second hand smoking for others on the beach, the littering of cigarette butts and not exposing children to the idea of smoking are all undeniably good things for society.

However, without pointing out the hypocrisy of those who wilfully bare themselves in the face of ultra-violet radiation complaining about the carcinogenic effects of smoking, there are reasons why the ban is a challenging idea. The pot and the kettle may be in an all too familiar situation but that doesn’t make the calls for a ban wrong.

Really, the question is more of could smoking be banned as opposed to should it be. Whilst in principle banning smoking on the beach would lead to a cleaner air and environment, the practicalities present potent issues.

Chiefly, the question is how to enforce such a ban and what would the repercussions be? In comparison to the ban in public places, there are no staff who cover the area in great enough detail at least to add this to one of their duties unlike in restaurants and other public buildings.

The two solutions to this are both impractical and unwanted. One solution would be with manpower which would mean increasing the police presence. The other would be with increasing the CCTV presence but both would be of a huge cost to a council with an already stretched public budget.

Moreover, increasing the police or CCTV presence would turn a relaxing trip to the beach into something akin to an Orwellian nightmare. Also, large enough coverage to fully incorporate the beach would certainly be piggy backed for more sinister purposes.

Imagine beaches under constant surveillance, with droves of officials handing out on-the-spot fines, ensuring that every beachgoer is in rank and file. Whilst I may be being slightly dramatic, the prospective enforcement would be a little unsettling.

Let alone the issue of actually finding a punishment to fit the crime. Ejection from the beach is somewhat impractical, given the size of the British coastline. Furthermore, where would the boundary be drawn inland, how far would you have to go to remove the impact upon other beachgoers from a cigarette?

Criminal punishments such as cautions would seem harsh for a minor offence such as that. Therefore, previous precedents would suggest that fines would be the solution. The fine itself couldn’t be so small that it was no deterrent and not ludicrously large. Again however, you would need a presence to impose the punishment.

The other practical issue is the fact that unlike restaurants and shops, the beach is a very public area, open 24/7 to clubgoers and families alike at different parts. To enforce the ban, a 24 hour presence is needed to make sure that the ban is fully effective environmentally. This again is impractical due to lack of manpower, and a large waste of resources for the police or other enforcement officials.

All of this presents the ban as a difficult problem. Despite my hyperbole of this opening the door to Big Brother, the benefits do make sense. I would propose two real alternatives:

Firstly, there could a separation, as opposed to an exclusion of smokers. Much like in restaurants previously, there could be smoking areas that are designated to allow children and those who are opposed to smoking to not receive the effects, but meaning that smokers do not feel like their liberties have been impacted.

Secondly, an increased litter picking force to remove cigarette butts. Nobody enjoys having to sit amongst other people’s rubbish, which adds to the fact that they can be damaging to wildlife and unpleasant in the sea. Litter pickers would redress the balance between grains of sand and cigarette butts on the beach.

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