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Opinion » Editorial

The Park Tobacco Ban



In the beginning smokers lit up everywhere and filled the air that other people had to breathe with smoke, and that was bad.

And it came to pass that anti-tobacco organizations began pushing for bans on smoking in enclosed public spaces like offices and stores and restaurants, and such bans were enacted, and that was good.

And then the anti-tobacco crusaders looked about them for new worlds to conquer, and they began clamoring to get the filthy weed banned in outdoor public spaces as well, such as streets and parks. And that was just plain silly.

The Bend Metro Park & Recreation District is considering a ban on the use of any form of tobacco - including the smokeless kind - in all its facilities. The district has been talking about such a ban since at least 2003. It was a dumb idea back then, and it remains a dumb idea today.

The Tobacco-Free Alliance of Deschutes County argues the ban is needed to protect innocent bystanders from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Okay, tobacco smoke contains carcinogens and lots of other nasty stuff, and breathing it either firsthand or secondhand is bad for people.

But it's hard to believe secondhand smoke poses any real hazard in an open-air environment. There just aren't that many people smoking at any given time, and the breeze quickly dissipates the smoke they create.

A Stanford University study last year found that "if you're at a sidewalk café, and you sit within 18 inches of a person who smokes two cigarettes over the course of an hour, your exposure to secondhand smoke could be the same as if you sat one hour inside a tavern with smokers." Of course, this begs the question: Why would anybody who objects to secondhand smoke sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a smoker for an hour?

We don't have any research to back this up, but we'd hazard a guess that goose poop fumes pose a greater health menace than a few stray molecules of tobacco smoke that might drift past somebody's nose.

The hollowness of the Tobacco-Free Alliance's secondhand smoke argument is betrayed by its desire to also prohibit snuff and chewing tobacco in parks. Smokeless tobacco users aren't going to harm the health of anybody unless they spit on them - and we're under the impression that's already illegal.

And then there's the matter of enforcement. Is Park & Rec going to create a Chew Patrol whose officers will peer into people's mouths to make sure they're masticating gum and not tobacco?

The bottom line is that the Tobacco-Free Alliance's health claims are a smokescreen for their real motive, which is that they find tobacco personally distasteful and they don't like the sight - or, apparently, even the thought - of anybody using it. They have a right to feel that way, of course. But the Park & Rec District - which, after all, serves the whole public, not just anti-tobacco activists - has no duty to cater to their tastes.

BOOT the ban.

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