Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Going Too Far: POST #1 - Scotts Valley Proposes Smoking Ban for Park Parking Lots

According to an article in yesterday's Santa Cruz Sentinel, the city of Scotts Valley (California) is considering an ordinance that would ban smoking in all parking lots of all city parks. Smoking is already prohibited in the parks themselves; the proposed law would extend the existing ban to include the parking lots.

The article states: "On Wednesday, the Scotts Valley City Council will consider expanding the rules it already has on the books against smoking in its six city parks to include the parking lots at the parks. Violations of the current anti-smoking code are an infraction carrying a $100 fine. 'We have that parking lot at Skypark there, which has the skate park and the dog park right adjacent to it, and I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at that and see if we might make that a nonsmoking area also,' said Cliff Barrett, the councilman who requested the topic be put on the council's agenda. 'And then if we're going to do that, it might be easier for everyone to understand if we said no smoking in any of the other parks in their parking lots.'"

There is a growing trend, especially in California, of park smoking bans; this proposal is somewhat novel, however, in that it would prohibit smoking in the parking lots of these parks.

The Rest of the Story

Yes - this is going too far.

While it seems to me that even banning smoking entirely in parks is a bit much, banning smoking in the parking lots of those parks is complete overkill. I am aware of no evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke in park parking lots is a significant public health threat.

Quite clearly, this proposal is not designed to directly protect nonsmokers from any significant health threat. Quite frankly, it appears to be designed primarily to protect nonsmokers from having to even face the nuisance or annoyance of having to walk a few steps to the side to avoid a smoker in a parking lot. It appears to be designed to protect nonsmokers from having to even experience the misfortune of having to see a smoker in a parking lot.

The reasoning of the councilman who proposed this idea was apparently that he wanted to ban smoking in this one parking lot, but if the city was going to do that, then it might as well ban smoking in all park parking lots, to make it easier to understand.

This is great reasoning. I would add, however: If the city is going to ban smoking in park parking lots, then it might as well ban smoking in all parking lots, to avoid any possible confusion. And if it is going to ban smoking in all parking lots, then it would be easier to understand if the city went ahead and banned smoking on all streets or paved areas. And to make it even easier to understand, the city might as well ban smoking on asphalt areas as well. To avoid any confusion, the city should simply ban smoking on any non-natural outdoor surfaces. But that could generate some confusion, so the easiest thing would be to simply ban all smoking outdoors.

So my recommendation for the Scotts Valley City Council when they consider this ordinance tonight would be to avoid all possibility of confusion: simply ban smoking completely in all outdoor areas, regardless of the physical nature of the surface.

I suppose I need to change my opinion on the ordinance. It seems that it doesn't go too far; it doesn't go far enough. Without a clear and outright ban on smoking everywhere in Scotts Valley, confusion is going to reign in the city.

The people of Scotts Valley are just not smart enough to understand the meaning of a no smoking sign. If you have a no smoking sign in one park parking lot, then smokers at all other city park parking lots are going to be terribly confused. They might not even light up, for fear that the Skypark smoking ban also applies to all other city park parking lots. The police in Scotts Valley also can't handle that kind of subtlety. You need to make it easy for them by telling them that there is no smoking anywhere outdoors in Scotts Valley. Anything more complicated than that and their minds will simply implode trying to figure it out.

The worst part of this all, and one reason why it concerns me so much, is that efforts like this are going to harm even the legitimate efforts to protect people from actual exposure to substantial amounts of secondhand smoke. Efforts like this make anti-smoking advocates appear to be overzealous crusaders. Eventually, that public image is going to hurt our important efforts - like eliminating smoking from bar, restaurant, and casino workplaces where employees are actually suffering significantly.

Now that I come to think of it, if the people of Scotts Valley are of such low intellect that they are going to be confused by a no smoking sign, then I'm not sure they will be able to grasp the subtleties of what constitutes indoors vs. outdoors areas. Perhaps the simplest thing to do, for the sake of public comprehension, would be for the City Council to ban all smoking. That leaves little room for confusion...

...except, of course, for the question of whether blowing a stick is considered smoking. I understand that there's a fair amount of Indiana hay used in those parts. Perhaps that explains the general level of confusion in Scotts Valley.

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