January 31, 2010

Ithaca Considers Restricting Public Smoking

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The Ithaca Common Council is now considering a proposal that would ban smoking in some public areas throughout the city, including public parks and most of the Commons.

“At the end of a year and a half, we’re very close,” said Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward). Myrick’s constituency resides in Collegetown, West Campus and the East Hill area. The Common Council Legislative Committee currently has a draft of the proposal that could be ready for a vote in the next few months, Myrick said.

Since there is no publicly owned property in Collegetown or on campus, Myrick said, the proposal mainly affects downtown Ithaca. However, the University’s tobacco policy already prohibits smoking within 25 feet of the entrance to any University-owned or controlled building, and smoking will be prohibited at Collegetown bus stops.

The city still needs to figure out how to enforce the law.

“Conceptually it makes sense,” said Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, “but how can you make it happen in reality?” According to Ferguson, the Legislative Committee still needs to figure out how to enforce the ban without permanently deviating police to the Commons to issue tickets to those in violation of the ordinance.

Because the DIA operates public festivals, which would ban smoking under the proposed legislation, Ferguson also worried that the lack of police to enforce the law could put the DIA in a position where it would have to enforce the ordinance.

“We’re in no position to police a festival,” Ferguson said. He pointed out that Ithaca hosts several huge festivals, from February’s Chili Festival to the Apple Harvest Festival in October. Since about 30,000 people attend these events, enforcing a smoking ban would prove impossible.

The accommodations that would be made for smokers in the Commons also raise the issue of personal freedom.

The proposed locations for designated smoking areas are at the three entrances to the Commons, Ferguson said. This would force non-smokers to walk through smoke in order to enter the Commons.

“The smoker has a right to smoke but the non-smoker has a right to breathe clean air,” Myrick said.

It may be difficult to reconcile these conflicting rights.

“I realize the issue of public health needs to be addressed,” said Mike Bobbe ’11, “but banning smoking through most of downtown may be taking it a step too far.”

Moreover, some local proprietors have expressed concern with the boundaries of the non-smoking areas in the Commons. Smokers on Aurora Street would have to stand in the middle of the road to reach the legal distance from an outdoor dining area, Ferguson said.

At a Common Council meeting this past December, members of the public voiced their opinions on time restrictions. Some who spoke at the meeting believe that the ban ought to be repealed during the evening hours when children have left the area, citing that one of the initial purposes of the ban is to protect children from secondhand smoke, Myrick said.

“Young people have really been pushing the issue,” said Myrick.

According to Myrick, most people who attended the meeting supported the ban.

Original Author: Robert Merola