Last week, the Northampton (MA) Board of Health enacted regulations to strengthen its smoke-free air law. Specifically, the Board of Health extended the smoking ban to include: (1) all public parks and athletic fields; (2) all private clubs; and (3) the use of e-cigarettes in all public places, including parks.
It may sound like a strong, courageous action from a Board of Health that is being guided by the solid, consistent principle that all nonsmokers should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke, period.
The Rest of the Story
While the Board of Health was "courageous" enough to ban smoking at all private clubs, it was not "courageous" enough to similarly ban smoking at the city's own public club -- the Garden House Banquet Hall at Look Park.
Hidden in the regulations is an exemption that allows for a designated smoking area at the Garden House Banquet Hall, even though that area is located in Look Park, which is a municipal park at which the regulations supposedly ban smoking.
In other words, this is a special exemption put in place for what are clearly political, rather than public health purposes.
And what might those political purposes be?
Well, consider that by banning smoking at all private clubs but creating an exemption for the city's Banquet Hall, it could potentially establish a competitive advantage for the city-owned facility over private facilities in competition for business from people looking for venues for celebrations.
Fortunately, the fine print in the regulations did not escape the attention of the ACLU, which is challenging this special interest exemption.
The ACLU is also challenging the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in the regulations, as it seems absurd to ban the use of e-cigarettes in all parks, given the lack of any evidence that vaping in a park poses any substantial public health threat.
The Northampton Board of Health may not have created public health regulations that have any consistency or science base. However, they have created an excellent entry for the 2014 Hypocrisy of the Year Award.