The essence of the Harm Principle by John Stuart Mill can be stated in an easily understood manner by dividing it into two parts: first, the law may permit an individual, actions that will affect other people as long as its for that person’s self preservation; second, the law may punish you to protect other people from your actions. Although the actions of an individual concerning himself is absolute since he is sovereign over himself, any action committed by him, if it has an effect on other people, would be under the Harm Principle.
Now, before I discuss the relation between smoking in public places and the harm principle, I would like to state the effect of smoking to non-smokers, or passive smoking. When non-smokers are exposed to smokers, their chance of having lung cancer or dying from heart attacks also increase. This is because there may still be smoke particles in the air which are smaller than the ones direct from a cigarette, making it easier for the particles to penetrate into the lungs (Health Scotland).
With that, I believe that the law prohibiting public smoking, e. g. smoking in bars and pool halls, is not a violation of the Harm Principle. The act of smoking has an effect on individuals around the smoker as the individuals inhale the air around them. Thus, the harm principle is in effect in the situation. Now according to the first part of the principle, the law may not punish the individual if due to other people, he is smoking to increase his life span. But smoking certainly does not do that since it is detrimental to the health of the smoker and the people around him.
According to the second part of the principle, you may be punished by law to prevent others from getting harmed. In the case of an individual smoking in a bar and affecting a nearby fellow, he can be punished by law for doing so for that nearby fellow to be protected from an increased chance of developing lung cancer. Of course, people may argue that since they are the sovereigns of themselves (Mill, ch. 23, sec. 1), it is permissible for them to do whatever thing they want to do.
They can smoke whenever and wherever they want. But as they smoke in public places, they are not only, in effect, harming themselves but they are also harming others, thus, via the harm principle, they are certainly punishable by law.
HealthScotland. 2007. 14 June 2007 <http://www. canstopsmoking. com/smoking-facts/passive-smoking. htm> Mill, John Stuart. Liberty. World Civilizations. 1997. W. W. Norton Publishing. 14 June 2007 <http://www2. wwnorton. com/college/history/ralph/workbook/ralprs28b. htm>