Saturday, 4 September 2010

Vancouver park ban limits options for mentally ill

Land of the Free. Acknowledgements to
Removing stigma is one of the reasons given for including mental health facilities in non-smoking policies. This is a professional concern of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who perhaps have reason to fear the stigmatisation of mentally ill people. There are more smokers among mentally ill people than among the general population.

If the Royal College of Psychiatrists doesn't want mentally ill people to have to cope with the additional stigma of smoking, it should perhaps address its own views about the meaning of stigma. Does it, for example, approve of the denormalisation of smoking, and by association the marginalisation of smokers? Does denormalisation or stigma help anyone's mental health?

In this piece, for example, the writer points out that his local council's recent decision to ban smoking in Vancouver beaches and parks prejudices the recreational opportunities for people with schizophrenia because more of them are smokers. I have sympathy with this view.

Several of those who comment on this article say that mentally ill people should apply nicotine patches to themselves before going to the park. For their own health too, of course: why should 'normal' people be forced to encounter a filthy habit when in the park, just because some mentally ill person doesn't have the will power to stop smoking?

What's wrong with these people? What harm does it do if someone smokes in a park? Surely you should not legislate against lawful and peaceful behaviour in a park? And how does it hurt anyone if someone who is mentally ill retains a degree of autonomy?

Would the Royal College of Psychiatrists denounce such a ban on the reasonable public health grounds that under no circumstances should people be denied the peaceful use of recreational public places?

Deliberately stigmatising smoking is at the bottom of these moves. Having told us that smoking is unhealthy, they want to stop smokers taking a walk in the park. This is not to do with public health, which should welcome smokers walking in a wholesome environment, but because nobody wants children to see smokers clearly enjoying their peaceful smoke in the park.

Meantime, meet the man who promotes smoke-free apartments in West Holywood, whose strategy is making smoking socially unacceptable. (This article admits that 'no one knows the science behind the assertion that "there is no safe level of secondary smoke".' But it doesn't stop the ban advocates pushing for outdoor bans.) I really don't get this thing about making smoking socially unacceptable. Everywhere I go there are people smoking in groups outside pubs. At the supermarket checkout I serve groups of people crates of beer and tobacco.

These people haven't made smoking socially unacceptable, they've made it officially unacceptable. Or, to put it another way, they have made it unacceptable to the people who matter in society, and they want us to believe that they are interested in reducing inequalities.


Anonymous said...

Definitely food for thought there Bel, thanks. I have a feeling that this could become one of the more obvious arguments about anti-smoker discrimination because people with mental health problems are, on the surface, supposed to be supported (pc).

The cartoon was stolen by me from teh interweb, I just added the words at the bottom. Credit goes to an unknown artist.


Belinda said...

reported here: