Ban Smoking at City Parks for Health, not to Moralize

Des Moines’ City Council looks likely to support a smoking ban in and around many public park areas.
The Register has reported that six of seven members favor the proposal, which the city parks board unanimously recommended.
Before the council votes, it should make sure the ordinance reasonably balances everyone’s interests.
It’s sensible to prohibit smoking outdoors when it poses a public health or safety threat. But if it doesn’t, tobacco is a legal product. It’s unfair to exile smokers simply because they set a bad example for young people.
The ban would include Gray’s Lake beach and other city facilities such as the James W. Cownie Soccer Complex, swimming pools, playgrounds, enclosed shelters and golf-course clubhouses. It also would include the Western Gateway Park downtown (although exceptions could be made for privately sponsored events), city-sponsored concerts and youth activities. The ban would cover Westchester Park adjacent to Hoover High School.
A 25-foot, smoke-free zone would circle designated areas. Violators could face stiff fines. But in most areas of Des Moines’ 70 city parks, smoking still would be allowed.
Don Tripp, city parks director, said he wants the ban so that park users aren’t turned off by smoking and tobacco-related debris.
City Council member Christine Hensley said she backs the ban because of concerns about public health and safety but also litter.
Banning smoking makes most sense where secondhand smoke would pose the greatest risk, especially places that are magnets for children, such as Gray’s Lake beach.
Smoking generates other nuisance problems: The litter is unsightly. Toddlers can pick up or step on discarded butts. But banning smoking entirely goes too far.
At the Cownie complex, for example, smokers can easily move a good distance away from spectators on the sidelines of soccer games so they don’t make it hard for others to breathe. Most youth games are on wide-open fields. Parents set up portable chairs on the sidelines, away from the kids.
In those circumstances, as long as smokers clean up after themselves, they’re harming only themselves. They might not be setting the best example, but a ban seems to be mostly about moralizing.
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