Seattle liberalism: illegal to smoke in parks, but no penalty

Seattle liberalismThe much-vaunted liberalism of Seattle is about to get an interesting test. The city is making it illegal to use tobacco in its many public parks. But violators will face no fine or jail time. Instead, they will get a talking-to by park rangers or police who–amazingly, if you ask me–also will try to persuade them into giving up their habit.

In 2010 Seattle parks barred use of tobacco within 25 feet of another park-goer. The number of $27 citations issued since then: zero.

Still, despite this total lack of enforcement, city officials deemed it necessary to ban use altogether. E-cigarettes and vape pens will be allowed on the theory they aid in smoking cessation.

But after complaints the rule might be used to harass the poor and homeless who sleep in parks–and apparently also need smokes to survive–the city Board of Park Commissioners really watered it down. There would be no penalty for violators, although repeat offenders could get hit with a trespassing charge.

Instead, a violator might get a written warning–and a printed card listing available resources for helping smokers to quit. Finally–and this is very Seattle–there would be creation of an Enforcement Monitoring Committee, “comprised of 3-4 people including a member of the Board of Park Commissioners, a representative from the Human Rights Commission and a homeless advocate to review and monitor the impacts of the smoking ban on people of color and homeless people … so that any unintended consequences can be addressed quickly.”

I am not making any of this up. Read the formal city proposal by clicking here.

In my New To Seattle opinion there is a Big Brother mind-control element to this. “The proposed smoking ban is about creating spaces that support health lifestyle choices,” the proposal states. “It is about de-normalizing tobacco use for young people.”

The proposal even contains suggested verbal enforcement language–sort of a Miranda warning for puffers–to be used during an encounter. Again, I kid you not:

You might not be aware, but all Seattle parks are now smoke-free. So I’m going to have to ask you to put your cigarette out and dispose of it safely in the trash can. Or, if you would like to continue smoking, please do so outside the park. Thank you for your understanding.

If you are interested, we have a resource card with information about the policy and resources for help in quitting tobacco. There are a lot of free resources available

Bear in mind that this no-smoking-in-the-parks ban is coming in the largest city of a state whose voters three years ago legalized recreational use of marijuana. Open use of weed–like public drinking of beer–remains illegal in parks and other outdoor spaces, like sidewalks. But from what I have observed–and smelled–enforcement of that ban has been a dismal failure. It’s hard for me to see how a prohibition on park tobacco use would be more successful, especially given the lack of meaningful sanctions.

Moreover, Seattle has a libertarian streak, particularly when it comes to lifestyle restrictions. In a city lauded for the educational attainment of its residents, plumes of tobacco smoke rise just outside the entrances of many downtown Seattle building. I wouldn’t be surprised if the smoking-in-parks ban actually prompts more smoking there as acts of defiance.

Seattle liberalism versus Seattle libertarianism. This should be fun to watch.

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