The great pub patio purification project - Metro US

The great pub patio purification project

You could always be safer, always healthier. But how much of this should be your responsibility, and how much should be the law?

A researcher from the University of Guelph was here last week, measuring air quality on Ottawa patios. He found cigarette smoke, rather than dispersing in the open air, hangs around and makes the atmosphere as toxic as L.A.’s worst smog day.

So there you go. That’s information you can use to decide whether a cold beer in the sun is worth 20 minutes’ exposure to second-hand smoke.

But it’s unlikely to end there. The urge to make people make the right choices, for their own good, is ever-present. The Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health is already readying a campaign to outlaw smoking on outdoor patios.

Smoking is a dumb, deadly vice, and some risk to bystanders seems evident, so the legal regime around tobacco is ever-tightening.

In Ottawa, where regulations are a local industry, we were a few years ahead of the province, passing a bylaw that banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2001. The main opposition to this came from pub owners, whose obvious self-interest undercut their effectiveness as a lobby. Smokers, by and large, grumbled and rolled over.

Personally, I opposed the ban. I don’t smoke, and wheeze through life on a fairly gimpy pair of lungs. My friends who smoke, however, are more fun when they can do so, and I resented the intrusion of more rules on the already regulation-rich pub environment. People don’t go to bars for their health. They go to drink, talk foolishness, laugh, flirt and have grownup fun.

For all my past liquor libertarianism, though, I must shamefully admit I now enjoy coming home from a night out without reeking of someone else’s cigarettes. Accompanying my nicotine-enslaved friends outside for their fix, I’ve found many more interesting conversations start up between strangers out there than inside. I could probably have found something positive to say about the punctuality of public transit under Mussolini.

Smokers already freeze outside on the curb for their habit all winter, and now risk banishment from their last summer refuge, the patio. How long before someone realizes that beverages served there contain alcohol, another proven health hazard? What about the risk of skin cancer from sitting out there in the sun?

Perhaps, for the good of the citizenry, we should just ban patios outright.

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