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The wafting influence of nonsmokers’ rights

The number of nonsmokers worldwide keeps rising, a result in large part of a focus on the right to clean air. A basic freedom to breathe more easily helps many people to either quit smoking or not start up at all.

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    Students wearing masks with no smoking signs attend an anti-smoking lecture ahead of the World No Tobacco Day, at a school in Anhui province, China, May 29, 2015. World No Tobacco Day falls on May 31 every year.
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This news should bring a sigh of relief. The proportion of nonsmokers in the world keeps rising. It is projected to climb to 81 percent by 2025, up from 78 percent in 2010, according to the World Health Organization.

The fact the WHO even counts the number of nonsmokers is telling. A half-century-long struggle against tobacco use has probably been far more effective by the promotion of a person’s right to clean air than the scare tactics to dissuade people from smoking.

More governments around the world, such as the city of Beijing, are banning smoking in public or even private spaces. In the eyes (and noses) of many, a freedom to light up can’t match the freedom to breathe more easily.

The latest ban began Oct. 1 in England and Wales, where smoking in an enclosed vehicle with anyone under the age of 18 could result in a $57 fine. (Seven states in the United States have similar bans.) In many British prisons, too, smoking will soon be banned in public spaces. And the British medical journal The Lancet launched a campaign last spring to create a tobacco-free world by 2040.

In the US, the movement against smoking didn’t really take off until a movement to honor the rights of nonsmokers began in the mid-1970s. Today, a solid majority say smoking should be made illegal in all public places, according to a July Gallup poll. And the number of regular smokers is at a historic low (about 19 percent).

The statistics showing the number of those in favor of clean air keep rolling in: At least 39 states have a smoke-free provision in most workplaces and/or restaurants. As a result, half as many American nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke today as 15 years ago.

Worldwide, nonsmokers’ rights have gained traction since 2005, when a treaty on tobacco control – the first global public health treaty – took effect. At least 49 countries have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws. And the prevalence of smoking is in steady decline.

“Non-smoking is becoming the new norm worldwide,” states the WHO.

Finland, a leader in protecting nonsmokers, hopes to go even further than restraining tobacco use in public. With the rise of use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, the Nordic nation plans to become nicotine free by 2040.

A new study by the University of California, San Francisco finds that smoke-free environments may help lower the chance of young people taking up smoking by a third. The opportunity given to nonsmokers to be free from harm, in other words, can help others remain free from an addictive habit.

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