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Continued: As bans spread across nation, some experts question evidence of harm from outdoor smoking

  • Article by: MIKE STOBBE , AP Medical Writer
  • Last update: August 8, 2013 - 3:20 AM

Indeed, health advocates in some places have focused on sites like sidewalk cafes, feeling they can't make the case for beaches or open-air parks.

"We only get involved where there's a real health risk," said Flory Doucas, co-director of Canada's Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.

Still, cigarette smoke in a place like a park can be a nuisance to some, just like loud music or dog waste.

That's how Roger Montiel of Atlanta views it.

"I don't really like the smell and I don't like it blowing in my face. If I'm enjoying a day at the park, I'd rather it not be part of that experience," he said while walking through a downtown park recently.

That's good enough reason for outdoor bans, Repace said. "People don't have to be dropping dead for you to regulate something," he said.

Well, not so fast, said Simon Chapman, an Australian researcher. He once won a prestigious American Cancer Society award for his anti-smoking efforts and formerly was editor of a medical journal focused on smoking's dangers. But in recent years he's become a vocal opponent to wide-ranging outdoor smoking bans.

He and Bayer worry such bans are really motivated by desires to make smoking seem like an unusual, socially unacceptable behavior. Ban proponents see that as a worthy goal; Chapman thinks it's a bad precedent.

"Next you might say 'Let's not just stop there. Let's not have people smoke anywhere they might be seen'" he said. "And then is it legitimate to say that any behavior that people don't like should be disapproved of because people might see it."

In Atlanta, a city council member decided to act after an encounter with a smoker in a park. A ban on smoking in the city's parks went into effect last summer. Technically, a violation could result in a fine of as much as $1,000. But — as in other cities — Atlanta officials have not arrested anyone.

"Enforcement generally has been someone says 'put that out,' and they put it out," said George Dusenbury, Atlanta's parks and recreation commissioner.

At Woodruff Park, a 6-acre downtown hangout, nearly a dozen smokers could be spotted in the park on a recent, sunny Friday morning. The regulars said they knew about the rules, but found ways to get around them.

"Smoke rises. I don't see a reason why it should bother other people out here," said Tommy Jackson, 55, lighting up with a friend at the edge of a paved footpath through the park.

Park worker Rufus Copeland said he's seen only a small drop in smoking since the green and white "Smoking Prohibited" signs went up last year. He steers smokers to the sidewalk rimming the park. But people still smoke. "It's hard," he said.

Brianna Mills, a 26-year-old nursing student from suburban Marietta, sat down for a quiet moment in the park with her Newports, unaware of the ban.

"It's supposed to be a free country," said Mills, who developed her habit 10 years ago. "It's like: 'Where can you smoke?'"

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