Just give them a bench

The citizen-run Portland Parks Board has recently recommended a potential smoking ban for all Portland parks. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz plans to propose the ban to the city council sometime in January. It could go into effect soon after.

While smoking is already banned in certain public spaces in Portland such as Pioneer Square, this ban would encompass all of Portland’s 209 parks.

Such a ban would not only include cigarettes but also cigars, cigarillos, kreteks, hookah pipes, chew, snuff, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

Already, 64 Oregon cities (along with Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, Philadelphia and Chicago) have banned smoking in public parks. Portland very well might be an eager addition to this list.

Portland State’s campus will also see a similar ban go into effect fall 2015.

Banning smoking in public places is one of those issues where initially I sort of just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Makes sense, because you know, public health and stuff.” However, the more I read into the issue the more I felt less sympathetic to this plight and more attached to the sentiment of, “Wait a second, personal liberties and stuff!”

For those who make their health a priority or who have lost a family member to lung cancer, such a ban is a no-brainer. Public parks are for everyone and non-smokers have rights which should be protected.

But what about smokers’ rights? Most people won’t argue that if someone wishes to smoke that is their own business and personal choice.

I have no interest in having a discussion about whether or not people should smoke. Not that it should be a surprise to anyone, but inhaling anything into your lungs, whether it is cigarette smoke, marijuana or e-cigarettes, is clearly bad for you. While we could have a discussion about the varying degrees of potential harm, that is not an issue I want to explore.

One of my biggest qualms with these proposals is the fact that they provide no particular alternative for smokers.

With smoking already banned in bars and near any entrance or exit, and with the potential addition of parks and the university campus to that list, the places where smokers can seek a safe haven to smoke are quickly decreasing.

While an argument can be based on the fact that 80 percent of Multnomah County does not smoke, it’s unfair to just say “tough luck” to the people who do. Smokers are a minority, but their rights should be protected.

I agree that people should not smoke in places where their smoke will be too burdensome, but I feel these initiatives are sort of tongue-in-cheek toward smoking in general. They treat smoking as an activity that shouldn’t simply be relocated but as something that should disappear completely. It’s as if by making it more difficult to enjoy a cigarette they hope to eradicate smoking altogether. When looking at the reasons for banning smoking in public parks, they fail to convey a rational and well-thought-out egalitarian approach.

The first reason listed by the Portland Parks Board in their recommendation to ban smoking is to “be consistent with [Portland Parks and Recreation’s] mission: ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland.’”

Similar rhetoric is found in PSU’s smoking policy, which hopes to maintain a “sustainable and healthy campus environment.”

Following this logic, shouldn’t we also ban McDonald’s and all potentially “unhealthy behavior” which might take place in Portland parks?

Not surprisingly, the Portland Parks Board is quick to hide behind the talking point of “protecting children,” but their recommendation goes beyond the mere threat of secondhand smoke. For the Portland Parks Board, even seeing a smoker could potentially hurt a child by encouraging them to “start a habit that is difficult to quit.”

Already there are rules preventing people from smoking within 25 feet of a children’s play structure, picnic tables or designated children’s areas.

The idea of banning a legal action which is done by adults who are capable of making their own personal decisions is worrisome. We wouldn’t tell an obese person to stay away from children because it might foster bad habits.

People jump at the opportunity to stand up for children’s health and wellness, but what about the parents who need to have a smoke so they can better cope with the fact that their snotty 4-year-old child running through the park is ruining all their hopes and dreams? Who will stand up for their rights?

As far as the university campus goes, I can’t imagine such a ban to be any more effective than the Clean Air Corridor.

Such an initiative also has the potential to give Portland ­police and our soon-to-be-armed Campus Public Safety Officers another reason to hassle people who were simply minding their own business, having a quick smoke on their walk home or during a study break. Along with that, PSU’s campus boundaries are fairly difficult to ascertain and will probably provide a lot of confusion for PSU students, employees and visitors.

I can’t help but feel people are under the illusion of an all-or-nothing sort of approach. I, for one, wish there could be some sort of compromise, possibly the implementation of clearly designated smoking areas, or perhaps prohibiting smoking during certain hours when children are frequently at parks.

These initiatives, under their current proposed forms, are too ambiguous and fail to account for where smoking, a legal act, might take place. They indirectly try to dissuade people from making their own decisions for reasons that aren’t all that convincing from a civil rights standpoint.

All I’m saying is give smokers a bench or a covered area away from the constant traffic of people. A place that is also not horribly inconvenient. Most smokers won’t mind having their own private place away from crowds to indulge free from judgment. I’m sure they hate hearing people complain about smoking as much as other people hate having smoke blown in their face.

For more opinions from PSU community members, watch the Vanguard Online video: