June 16, 2013

Editorial: Smoking ban expanded at parks


---- — The state has expanded the areas where smoking will be banned this year at the state's parks and historic sites. Smokers might take umbrage at the idea that they can't smoke while out in the open air, but the reasons behind the decision are solid.

According to a news release from the Governor's Office, “No-smoking areas will be designated by signage at outdoor locations where smoking is prohibited.

"Even with the new regulations, there will remain many appropriate areas, including most campsites, open-air picnic areas, parking areas and undeveloped areas within the 330,000-acre state park system for those who wish to smoke in a manner that does not violate the concerns of the majority of the public.

"Smoking is already prohibited inside all buildings within state parks and historic sites.”

We realize that the new smoke-free boundaries will raise concerns, principal of which is that it's another right being abridged by government. We also realize that those concerns will be expressed almost exclusively by smokers.

Smokers are hardly reliable witnesses on the issue. They have no idea how offensive cigarette, cigar and pipe tobacco are to non-smoking passers-by.

The impetus for the new regulations is the health of the general public. Second-hand smoke is acknowledged as a significant risk to human beings, whether they smoke or not. If smokers choose to ignore health warnings and imperil their own health, they at least should not take down non-smokers with them. And it isn't just a personal health issue — we all pay inflated health-care costs because of all the diseases caused by smoking.

Beyond the health issue is the matter of litter. Far too many smokers feel it's their birthright to discard their cigarette butts in whatever they perceive as a convenient ash tray: under a tree, into the gutter, onto the sidewalk, wherever they happen to be driving or standing.

The litter is irksome, to be sure. Would they drop a candy wrapper on the ground, feeling they hadn't done anything wrong?

But there is also a fire danger associated with depositing cigarette butts in the midst of flammable surroundings. This may be especially true in parks and campgrounds populated by trees and pine needles.

Beyond that is just the idea that parks are designed as family gathering places, which guarantees that children will be nearby.

The news release is quite specific: “State Parks has expanded upon its smoke-free areas at playgrounds and swimming pools to now include other zones, such as specific swimming beaches; pavilions and picnic shelters; developed athletic facilities; boardwalks; outdoor seating areas near food and beverage concessions; areas where outdoor environmental education programs are held; public gardens; areas where children or large numbers of visitors congregate; and within 50 feet of buildings.”

Smokers this year face fines of up to $250 for violating the new regulations.

Cigarettes are already way overpriced. Are they worth a $250 fine, as well?