Monday, March 23, 2009

Hayward Begins Ticketing Smokers on Public Streets and Sidewalks to Clean Up City's Image

In what is admittedly an attempt to clean up its image from the "unattractive" appearance of smokers in the city, Hayward (California) began last week to issue tickets to people caught smoking on public streets and sidewalks. The city enacted an ordinance in May which bans smoking in all areas owned by the city, including all public streets, sidewalks, and other public places.

According to an article in the San Jose Mercury-News: "Lighted cigarettes meant lightened purses and wallets for smokers who were caught puffing in public last week, as the city began enforcement of a smoking ban that technically went into effect last summer. The law, passed by the City Council last May, mandates a $50 fine for smoking on sidewalks, streets and other public places, including a 20-foot no smoking zone around outdoor patio areas of restaurants and bars, as well as parks, sports fields, playgrounds and municipal parking lots. ... Police in the area Thursday night issued six citations and four warnings, according to Hayward police Sgt. Steve Brown. 'It's trouble for people who smoke,' said Vic Kralj, owner of the Bistro on B Street, which has sidewalk seating that has traditionally been popular with smokers, but is now posted with "No Smoking" signs. He said a man cited for smoking on Wednesday was found to have outstanding warrants, prompting an arrest and a lot of police activity. 'That doesn't look good, to have six cops in front of your place in the middle of the day,' Kralj said." ...

"'Smoking is unattractive,' [city manager Fran] David said. 'Groups of people smoking can be intimidating to some people, and it may be preventing folks from shopping in Hayward.'"

The Rest of the Story

You know a movement is going too far when its justification for outlawing smoking in certain public places is that it is "unattractive."

I used to be part of a pro-health movement. The goal was, in part, to protect the health of nonsmokers by preventing them from substantial, unavoidable exposure to secondhand smoke.

I guess I missed the part about the movement's goal being to rid our cities of unattractive images, like smokers. I can think of a lot of things that are actually unattractive that we could ban if we wanted to clean up our cities, create a healthier environment for shopping, and bring more people into downtown commercial areas. Smokers are not on my list.

It's one thing to argue that smoking needs to be banned on all streets and sidewalks in order to protect the public's health. That's obviously an outrageous and unsupported argument, but at least it is based on some semblance (no matter how ridiculous and extreme) of a health concern. But to argue that smoking needs to be banned on all city streets and sidewalks because individuals smoking in public are unattractive seems to me to show the complete obliteration of what was once a science-based movement within the field of public health.

If the city wants to ban unattractive images from its streets, then why not do it directly? Just pass a law stating that unattractive people are not allowed on the public streets and sidewalks of Haywood. Or that they have to walk around with bags over their heads. Restrict the downtown streets to attractive models and I guarantee that the city will see an increase in retail store customers.

It appears that the city's new slogan should be: "Unattractive people stay home. You're not wanted in Haywood. You drive our business away."

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