Smoking ban makes sense in today's world
When your city mayor regulates your streets to such an extent that you cannot even recreate the image that has become the symbol of freedom-loving heroic rebellion, you might think that the mayor has become intent on taking the fun out of city life. Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new smoking ban which would impose hefty fines on anyone who lights up in public areas. In other words, James Dean's atmospheric stroll through a drizzling Times Square in his long coat with an upturned collar and a cigarette dangling from his lips, captured by photographer Dennis Stock, would no longer be possible without incurring a US$250 fine.
That image, in particular, has come to represent the non-conformist way of life which is undoubtedly embraced by a large number of New Yorkers. Bloomberg's ban has been portrayed as an attack on that way of life, with critics expressing concern that Bloomberg is becoming too much of a health-conscious control freak, which will eventually erode the edgy excitement of the New York experience. Indeed, in an age of desk jobs and monotonous regularity, it is a shame that city dwellers can no longer suspend disbelief and imagine themselves as an existential hero without that fantasy being burst by a smoking fine. But Hong Kong has implemented such bans for more than three years now, and we have all lived happier, healthier lives because of them. Parents in the park no longer worry over the flick of ash landing on their baby's face in the stroller. Our beaches and public recreation areas are now cleaner and more pleasant. With research now suggesting that even second-hand smoke in open areas can affect one's health, Bloomberg was right to propose this ban before the health of millions was further affected.
In reality, everyone wants to live fast, but no one wants to die young. Dean's image belonged to a fantasy world in which rebels are heroes, and impulsive unprotected sex never has consequences. James Dean today may be affronted by the smoking ban, but no doubt he would have been grateful for the seat belt legislation.