March 3, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: City lacks means to impose smoking ban in parks

 

If you go

Who: Spokane Park Board

What: Public hearing on a proposed tobacco-free policy for city parks

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday

Where: City Council chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

One by one, public spaces have been ventilated of tobacco smoke that once was taken for granted. Airplanes, workplaces, sports arenas, teachers’ lounges, even bars and restaurants, are smoke-free.

The government’s authority to outlaw certain practices generally gets the credit. But most of us know of at least some smokers who, even in their own homes, are relegated to the porch or the backyard. Such is the intensity of cultural pressure.

Smoking is a serious health concern, but it has such a strong chokehold on its addicts that outright prohibition is politically out of the question. Thus the incremental approach.

The next increment, in Spokane and many other cities, appears to be community parks. Prompted by the Spokane Regional Health District and Teens Against Tobacco, the Spokane Park Board has proposed banning smoking on its properties (except golf courses) and in its facilities (including clubhouses). A hearing is scheduled Wednesday evening, and the board is expected to make a decision March 12.

A similar proposal is under consideration in Tacoma. Another was brought up a year ago in Wenatchee, where the City Council sent it back to the park board for more study, which is still under way. Eureka, Calif., recently enacted a smoking ban in its parks. Even Raleigh (as in Sir Walter, popularizer of tobacco), N.C., is considering the idea.

From community to community, the reasons are familiar. Secondhand smoke is not safe at any level. Smoking generates litter in the form of cigarette butts. Seeing others smoke makes children more likely to take it up.

Strong reasons all, except for one compelling problem. Outlawing a practice implies the will and the means to back it up, and even if the city of Spokane has the will, it lacks the means.

The Park Board’s proposal promises enforcement “by all legal means available,” but surely that doesn’t mean the already understaffed Police Department. Instead, advocates are counting on park staff (who aren’t necessarily present in many parks) and other park users, along with signage, to curb violations.

Remember, tossing away cigarette butts is a form of littering, which is already against the law. Even so, members of Teens Against Tobacco collected a mountain of butts when they scoured Riverfront Park before and after last fall’s Pig Out festivities.

We applaud the group for its initiative, and we share its desire for a tobacco-free environment.

But we think a strong public education campaign is a more promising and honest way to get there than a law that can’t be applied effectively and consistently.


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