Park smoking ban more political than effective law

By Editorial Board

Chicago followed in the footsteps of other major cities such as Boston and New York City when the Chicago Park District Board passed a resolution Sept. 10 to ban smoking in the city’s 580 parks.

Violators will face a $500 fine if caught smoking within 15 feet of Chicago’s parks, beaches, harbors and playgrounds, as reported Sept. 15 by The Chronicle. Electronic cigarettes, cigars and vaporized substances are also included in the ban, which took effect immediately upon its passage.

The ban is one of several that have been passed in Chicago to encourage a smoke-free city and combat smoking among youth since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. In January 2014, the City Council prohibited the smoking of electronic cigarettes indoors by designating e-cigarettes as tobacco products. It also raised the cigarette tax to 75 cents per package, as reported Nov. 11, 2013 by The Chronicle.

In a city with high crime rates and a limited number of police officers, this ban is more of an opportunity for the city to take a political stance on smoking than a policy that will actually be prosecuted by law enforcement.

The lenience of the ban was displayed two weekends ago at Riot Fest. Just two days after the ban went into effect, the annual festival filled Humboldt Park with fans, many of whom are habitual smokers. According to a Sept. 13 Chicago Magazine article, Chicago Park District Board Superintendent Michael Kelly said the ban did not apply to Riot Fest attendees because it was just implemented, but it will apply to future festivals that take place in the city’s parks. However, the article also featured anonymous Chicago Police Department officers who admitted they thought the ban was foolish and would not enforce it unless people were using drugs.

The officers’ mentality is seen in Chicago every day. Outside Columbia buildings, students do not adhere to the law that requires smokers to remain 15 feet away from building entrances while they smoke. Instead, the measure is largely an opportunity for the city to express its opposition to smoking. Emanuel released a statement Sept. 10 applauding the district’s ban, stating the policy “encourages smokers to quit and discourages kids from picking up the habit. This policy complements the mayor’s extensive work on the issue that has led to record low smoking rates among both youth and adults in Chicago,” as reported Sept. 10 by The Chronicle.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg led a national campaign to curb smoking by passing laws that ban smoking indoors and at parks in the city. However, a Sept. 15 press release from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported an increase in smoking, with 16.1 percent of adult smokers in 2013 compared to 14 percent in 2010. Although this does not seem like a significant increase, it is the highest increase since 2007, when such legislation began, demonstrating the highly addictive nature of nicotine.

Since 1964, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has conducted yearly reports about the devastating effects of cigarette use and second-hand smoke. Despite its efforts, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the nation, killing 480,000 people every year.

Although it is admirable that the city is attempting to curb smoking by banning it in public spaces, its efforts to decrease smoking are likely to remain unsuccessful. The ban’s predecessor in New York City proved that the government clamping down on vices will both fail to eliminate or decrease smoking and alienate a significant portion of the population that does smoke. It also shows that smokers will go to any lengths to light up despite the limited number of places to do so.

The ban on smoking in parks is just another effort by the city to brag about its progressive policies, but its ability to actually implement change is laughable at best. Instead of making empty political moves, the city government should use its time to pass laws that actually have a chance to succeed.