Smoking ban in parks

Public health v. freedom of choice

The Atlanta City Council voted this week to ban smoking in public parks, joining Alpharetta, Decatur, Marietta, Roswell and other nearby cities. A councilwoman who sponsored the legislation writes about the need for the restriction, while a Roswell official who disagrees on principle with the ban says it’s another encroachment by the nanny state on our freedom.

Moderated by Tom Sabulis. Commenting is open below following Betty Price’s column.

By Joyce M. Sheperd

This week my colleagues and I passed legislation to ban smoking in Atlanta city parks. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation, and I applaud the city for taking a much-needed step to improve the health of our residents.

While I have listened to both sides of the smoking debate, I have personally seen the negative impact of smoking on visitors of our parks. I am a frequent park user. I have witnessed smoking around children at our splash- pad facilities and playgrounds such as those at Perkerson Park. I have witnessed smoking at festivals and large gatherings, including the Atlanta Jazz Festival. I have seen park users ask others to stop smoking, and I have seen them refuse.

This has to stop.

This legislation is not just a matter of policy but of public health. Secondhand smoke has been proved to contribute to health issues, including asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and cancer in our children and adults. Cigarette butts and other debris from smoking can cause health issues for our children and our pets. These facts cannot be ignored, and with the rising costs of health care treatment, this decision comes at exactly the right time.

Atlanta is known for beautiful greenspace and public parks. We want to preserve this distinction. Removing smoking from our parks will help complete this vision.

Parks should be a place that residents can go and enjoy free of health concerns. They should be places that we can go to be reinvigorated. If we want our residents to continue to take full advantage of our parks and recreational facilities, we must make sure they are clean, safe, landscaped and now, smoke-free.

Smoking is a choice for users to engage in, but its negative health effects for those who ingest secondhand smoke are not.

As a person who grew up in a household of a smoker, I have experienced the impacts firsthand. This perspective has given me a better understanding to the gravity of having and not having environmental choices.

I have a responsibility to provide a healthy environment not just for those who vote in the city and exercise choices concerning their bodies according to their own volition, but also to provide a healthy environment to those who have limited choices and abilities to control or influence their environments.

How many children have the choice of reading the warning labels of the harmful effects of smoking and tobacco consumption before being exposed to cigarette smoke in our greenspaces, or to cigarette butts that landscape their play areas and boxes?

The imposition of second-hand smoke, as stated by a teenager before the City Council on Monday, creates a negative experience in what is supposed to be a positive one.

The point of this ordinance is not to legislate human behavior. It is to ensure an overall better quality of life and health for Atlantans and visitors to our parks. I hope you join me in creating clean air and a more positive environment in Atlanta’s greenspace.

Joyce M. Sheperd is an Atlanta city councilwoman representing District 12.

By Betty Price

There is a movement afoot that thinks it needs to make personal choices for other people. From the size of your soft drink cup to banning McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, to whether or not you are allowed to smoke in outdoor public areas, it is a slippery slope of progressively lost freedoms.

This growing faction wanting excessive control in our lives would like us to conform to someone else’s determination of how we should think and behave. These dangerous people are having great success in passing stifling laws, rules and regulations to fit their world view.

The “big-nanny-state” has eroded the inculcation of personal responsibility decisions and eventually may result in rebellion among people resisting the squeeze of unconstitutional limitations.

The fundamental guaranteed principles in this country used to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today we see that your life deserves protection only if the protector deems that your life is viable or desirable. Your liberty now goes only as far as someone else thinks you must bend to his view of utopia. Your pursuit of happiness can easily be nullified when someone thinks it is in the state’s interest to define it and curtail it.

In our democracy, we pass laws to enhance our founding principles and to allow for a civil society. When we infringe on the rights of others, we can expect passage of laws to protect those rights. A recent example is the smoking ban in public indoor areas. Most of us now accept and enjoy eating in a restaurant without second-hand smoke, understanding that one’s right to smoke is legitimately trumped by someone else’s right to breathe clean air.

The extension of this indoor clean air standard to include the great out-of-doors is less defensible.

Indeed, smoking is a filthy and unhealthy habit. Members of my own family have had miserable and shortened lives due to tobacco addiction, and I would never advocate taking up smoking.

However, one-fifth of the population smokes and it is a legal adult activity for those who pursue happiness by inhaling nicotine. This 20 percent of the population also pays taxes for upkeep of our public parks, and they have a right to enjoy a walk in our larger parks while smoking, provided they aren’t harming someone else.

While it is appropriate to restrict smoking at crowded outdoor concerts or youth sports activities, it is meddlesome to ban smoking in large open spaces where one can walk for miles.

We also must endure “sign pollution” from the erection of costly markers announcing the municipal illegality of outdoor smoking in every public park. The fine for violation of the ordinance is substantial, yet in nearly two years not one ticket has been issued in Roswell.

Why not just live and let live? God gave us free will to choose our individual paths and suffer the consequences of bad decisions. That means some people may wish to accept personal health risks even while out getting some fresh air.

Betty Price is a Roswell city councilwoman.

23 comments Add your comment

muddy waters

July 20th, 2012
7:30 pm

All you “we have the right to breathe clean air” nuts: Why don’t you get on the phone and tell that to Georgia Power/Southern Company while they pour pollutants into “your” air EVERY DAY? And, while you’re at it, why don’t you leave your polluting car at home and ride your bike. I have the “right” not to breathe your toxic exhaust. Not.

BTW, I’m a non-smoker, just don’t like self-entitled busybodies.


July 20th, 2012
6:24 pm

Maybe during events possibly, outside of that its pretty much unenforceable. I do hope this ordinance extends to undercover officers too!


July 20th, 2012
4:47 pm

The next major public-health menace, Alcohol!