Thursday, May 25, 2006

San Diego May Make it a Crime to Smoke in a Park or on a Beach

According to the Los Angeles Times, a San Diego City Council committee has voted to push forward an ordinance that would make it a crime to smoke anywhere in a park or on a beach in the city. Apparently, the ordinance would classify smoking on a beach or in a park as a misdemeanor, would be enforced by the police and by lifeguards, and smokers who light up in a park or on a beach would be subject to citizen's arrest.

The Rest of the Story

Is this what we really want? Police officers going around and pressing criminal charges against a guy smoking in a large park? Lifeguards diverting their attention from watching swimmers in the water and confronting smokers? Citizens confronting their fellow citizens and issuing citizen's arrests (which would probably spark fisticuffs or worse)? The court system logjammed because of numerous cases of people lighting up in Balboa Park?

As devastating a public health problem it creates when you have a couple of people smoking in a park or on a beach, I think there are better ways to deal with the problem than to criminalize these individuals. And the fact that the city would even consider making this a crime suggests to me that something else is going on here, beyond simply a concern for health.

I think that there is a primary desire to criminalize smoking, to further make smokers social pariahs, outcasts, subjects of societal scorn.

There's got to be a better way to achieve our public health goals. Unless the goal is to punish smokers for their addiction and personal choices, in which case this is an excellent way to proceed.

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