Thursday, August 11, 2005

Buffalo Grove (IL) and Greenville (TX) Ban Smoking in Parks

The Greenville (TX) City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that bans smoking in all of the city's parks, except for the municipal golf course and parking lots. This action is on the heels of the Buffalo Grove (IL) Park District Board of Commissioners' decision to ban smoking on all park district property.

Smokers who violate the Greenville ordinance will be charged with a misdemeanor - a criminal charge - and would then face conviction proceedings, which could ultimately result in up to a $500 fine. Violations of the Buffalo Grove rule would face only a civil charge, which could result in a fine of between $25 and $100.

Buffalo Grove previously had a rule that banned smoking within buildings on park property and within 20 feet of the entrance to these buildings. But the new rule extends the old one so that people who wish to smoke will have to leave park property entirely: "Park District Executive Director Michael Rylko agreed that in some situations enforcing the smoking ban could be difficult, such as when people step outside the Alcott Center to smoke. The current rule prohibits smoking within 20 feet of the entrance to Alcott, at 530 Bernard Drive, and other park buildings. But Rylko said he still frequently sees 'three or four senior ladies puffing on their weed. When I tell them they can't smoke (even outside the Alcott building or in the parking lot), they are going to go crazy,' Rylko said. 'What do I do, call 911?'"

The Rest of the Story

I don't see secondhand smoke exposure as such a serious health threat that banning smoking in outdoors, non-enclosed areas where people are not contained in a particular area is warranted. Certainly, smoking in parking lots is not a severe health hazard that deserves attention from public health practitioners. And I just don't see how those three or four senior ladies puffing on cigarettes outside the Alcott building represent a serious enough threat to the public's health to warrant government intrusion of this nature.

But the absurdity of this story is evidenced in the inconsistency of these actions as public policy. In Greenville, if you smoke in a remote areas of a park with no one around, you have committed a crime and could potentially enter into the criminal justice system, requiring criminal proceedings and using up valuable court time. But if you smoke on a crowded golf course, no problem. Even worse, if you smoke in a bar or restaurant where you are actually exposing workers to high levels of carcinogens, that's also not viewed as a problem worthy of government intervention. Only non-golf course outdoor parks are apparently viewed as a health threat that needs attention. This is an absurd approach to public health policy!

The same is true of Buffalo Grove's policy. That town apparently does not see a need to protect bar and restaurant workers from exposure to high levels of secondhand smoke, but it does see a need to prevent the severe health threat posed by three or four seniors puffing meekly on their cigarettes outside the Alcott Center.

The word absurd is defined as "ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous" and "having no rational or orderly relationship to human life." The recent actions of Buffalo Grove, Illinois and Greenville, Texas fit this defnition to a tee.

No comments: