Legislating abjection? Secondhand smoke, tobacco control policy and the public's health

Kirsten Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the mid-1990s, the position that ‘no amount of secondhand smoke is safe’ has achieved hegemonic status in the field of public health. This has bolstered efforts in the tobacco control community to advocate for smoke-free legislation and a variety of countries around the world have implemented indoor smoking bans, with many others presently following suit. This article examines why secondhand smoke has been such a central focus in tobacco control and public health policy, despite the limitations of the available evidence base on its health impacts. I argue that public health responses to secondhand smoke can only be understood in relation to the liminal and transitive qualities of cigarette smoke and its capacity to dissolve the boundaries between bodies. My key goal is to illustrate the influence of cultural assessments about the nature of ‘risk’ on epidemiological standards of evidence. I contend that the subjectively experienced abjectness of cigarette smoke far more than the ‘objectively’ demonstrable harms to health it causes ultimately explains both popular and public health responses to the substance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • healthy public policy
  • legislation
  • public policy

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