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

Raheem

July 20th, 2012
3:24 pm

As a smoker I respect others’ right not to be exposed to second hand smoke, and for that reason I support restrictions on smoking indoors or in other captive air envirionments.

However, when you’re talking about an open air outdoors park that’s different. The likelihood that someone will receive anything close to a significant amount of my smoke on a walking trail is remote.

These anti-smoking ordinances I fear are more about feel good political correctness than any concern for public health. I wonder what will be banned next.

Felix Lawson

July 20th, 2012
3:04 pm

We have a right to breathe clean and fresh air. This landmark decision is a pathway to creating a more healthier place to live, work and play!

Angus

July 20th, 2012
2:41 pm

I encounter people I’d rather not be around doing legal things I’d rather them not do in parks all the time. I either ignore them or go somewhere else – that’s part of a free society.

Bill

July 20th, 2012
2:20 pm

Chuck, the difference is that your front porch legally belongs to you. Piedmont Park is public space. I agree that you should be free to do as you wish in your home and any other space that is yours.
One other commenter said that this law would be “banning a fifth of the population from parks,” which is not true. It would tell a fifth of the people that they could not engage in a certain behavior while using the park, because their chosen behavior negatively impacts four fifths of the people. This is not an issue of telling people how they can live their own lives – it’s about telling people that they can’t force a negative impact on other people in a public place.

Chuck

July 20th, 2012
1:49 pm

This is just the begining. Next stop is your home. My place faces Piedmont park. How is smoking on my front porch any different?

Bill

July 20th, 2012
1:21 pm

First off, I think it’s troubling when we start describing people who smoke in derogatory terms. Some people are inconsiderate, some are not and that doesn’t have anything to do with whether they smoke or not. Let’s be respectful and paint all smokers with the same wide brush.

I think everyone should be allowed to make their own choices, however, I don’t quite understand why smokers feel it’s their civil right to foul the air others are breathing? Whether it’s a health issue or simply a quality of life issue for those around you, smoking is not something that can be feasibly contained to one’s own personal space, so when one is smoking in public, one does impact others in the vicinity. It seems logical and fair that a person who is minding their own business in a public place be allowed to breathe air without having someone else’s individual actions directly ruin it. I do sympathize that it’s inconvenient for those who have this addiction but when your actions negatively impact other people in the public square, it’s not unreasonable for the public to restrict that behavior. I don’t think that’s an example of the “nanny state” – it’s the public contriving laws to allow each person enjoy the public spaces on an equal basis.

My last remark: I think it’s pretty laughable that we’re addressing the issue of outdoor smoking while people are still allowed to smoke indoors. I can’t go out to a bar for a drink becasue people are allowed to smoke indoors and make the air unbreathable for me. Allowing people to foul the public air seems like much more of an infringement on my rights than telling those who wish to smoke that they need to restrict their habit to an area that only impacts themselves.

ATL411

July 20th, 2012
1:19 pm

I wish they would ban misbehaving kids that are ignored by their inconsiderate parents in public. They seem to be immune to their mannerless kids and are utterly classless.

Donner

July 20th, 2012
12:52 pm

Many of you miss the point when Ms. Price describes the slippery slope. It’s easy to make the “you’re hurting other people with second-hand smoke” argument and say that infringes on other’s rights. Fine. But you have to logically admit that if you are drinking over-sized soda drinks, the strain you put on the insurance and health industry when you’re obese and diabetic now infringes on my rights. That’s the slippery slope. I’m never for curtailing of rights but all of us can at least be reasonable. Banning a fifth of the population from parks b/c you’re too much of a &^%$ to deal with the smell?? Whoever commented about the taxes on cigarettes being the main reason that smoking will not be going away hit it on the head. I participated in the litigation and I’m telling you that your public health system would collapse if smoking were outlawed and the tax revenue on cigarettes ceased. It’s just another example of the majority picking on the minority and this is one of the only areas of law that we allow this to happen. I don’t like smoking either but I think it’s so hypocritical to call these people scumbags and charge them out the #$$ with taxes, for being addicted to something, to pay for your healthcare.

Not Blind

July 20th, 2012
12:46 pm

nsnstv, I do have my windows up. All cars pull in outside air when you have the AC on. When I see some dipstick with his cigarette hanging out of the window I turn the AC off. Often I don’t see the knucklehead and the first inkling is when my interior is filled with his stink.

Joel

July 20th, 2012
12:45 pm

We moved here from California and there are many cities where smoking is NOT ALLOWED in ANY outdoor places. My wife and I are non smokers and were quite glad to see the Atlanta smoking ban go into effect. In short, smoker’s have been placed on notice that they can no longer impose their filthy habit on other people. We look forward to seeing a state wide ban go into effect. Good work Betty.