July 18 Daily News editorial
The Longview City Council tried to address a number of concerns and competing interests in crafting the recently approved ban on tobacco use in city parks. Council members agreed to designate areas in the city's four major parks where smokers could light up and smokeless tobacco users could chew. Then, to accommodate those members who worried that the ordinance might be unenforceable, the council included a two-year sunset clause to make the ban go away should that prove to be the case.
It was enough to win the votes of four of the six council members at the July 8 meeting. But Council members Chuck Wallace, who felt police had higher priorities than citing smokers, and Mary Jane Melink, who believed the tobacco ban was overreaching, could not embrace the ordinance. We're with the minority on this issue — particularly Councilwoman Melink.
This law is an overreach — an example of "nanny government," if you will. We think the council has better things to do than agonize over a solution to a nonexistent problem. Are smokers endangering the health of non-smokers in the parks or otherwise fouling their park experience? Not to our knowledge. We've witnessed no flood of complaints.
We very much support the existing ban on smoking in public buildings and efforts to discourage tobacco use. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths. Secondhand smoke is a well-documented health hazard for non-smokers, linked to lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and premature births.
Moreover, we fully recognize the good intentions of members of the committee that recommended this ban on tobacco use in city parks. They've dedicated themselves to improving the health of the community. And the community certainly could use the help. Daily News city reporter Amy M.E. Fischer reports that tobacco uses in Cowlitz County exceeds the state average. Twenty-seven percent of pregnant women smoke, compared to 10 percent statewide.
Discouraging tobacco use is a worthy goal, obviously. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard — but not in city parks. An open-air smoking ban is more symbolic than useful in terms of reducing smoking rates or safeguarding the health of non-smokers. In this instance, the symbolism is weakened considerably by the ordinance's failure to cover the city-owned Mint Valley Golf Course. You can smoke or chew with impunity, it seems, if you help generate revenue for the city.
As well-motivated and careful to consider competing points of view as council members may have been, this ban smacks of the heavy hand of government. It is, as Melink said, an overreach.