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By Jordan W. Charness

This week’s column came to mind when I heard that the province of Ontario is contemplating bringing in a new law that would prohibit people from smoking in apartments and condos. If this law ever gets off the ground, it would mean that people in Ontario would not be allowed to smoke in lobbies, common areas, garages, or even in their own bedrooms!

The idea behind this proposed law is to protect non-smokers from the effects of second-hand smoke even though the smoking that is being done is that of a perfectly legal substance known as tobacco. While it is true that tobacco smoke is extremely dangerous for your health, it is something that is still permitted by law.

There has always been a debate between those who feel that the rights of an individual are more important than the rights of society as a whole and, in fact, our entire legal system is based on balancing personal rights with societal rights.

But once you start legislating what you are allowed to do in the privacy of your own home, then the pendulum swings towards protecting society at the expense of individual rights and liberties.

All this talk of possibly prohibiting smoking in condos and apartments led me to look into a debate that keeps popping up about whether or not it should be legal to smoke in your own car. Non-smoking activists quite rightly point out that nobody wants to breathe in and your exhaled smoke while sitting in a confined place even if the windows or sunroof may be open.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to take a lift with a smoking driver you’re free to refuse the lift and take the bus. Similarly, the driver/owner of a car would well be within his or her rights to tell a passenger not to light up in their car.

The only people who would find themselves forced to spend time in a car with a smoker would be those who were too young to enforce their will over the drivers. These individuals would, of course, be kids.

A quick review of the smoking laws across the country shows that at least three provinces have enacted laws making it illegal to smoke in the car if there are underage passengers riding along. But even in those three provinces, the age that constitutes underage varies.

In Prince Edward Island, the Smoke-Free Places Act makes it illegal to smoke in the car if there’s a passenger under the age of 19 years present.

At the other end of the country, the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act prohibits smoking in a car if the passenger is under the age of 16.

Nova Scotia follows its fellow Atlantic province by also banning smoking in cars if you’re carrying passengers under the age of 19.

In all cases, it’s not only cigarette smoking that is banned, but pipe smoking and cigars as well. In most cases, the law says that you’re not even allowed to hold a lighted tobacco product in your hand whether or not you intend to smoke it. Of course, why you would light up if you had no intention of smoking is beyond me.

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