Ann Arbor City Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski proposed an ordinance Monday night to extend existing prohibitions and create new ones for outdoor smoking in Ann Arbor. It proposes to ban smoking within 20 feet of entrances, windows or ventilation systems of city buildings and the Blake Transit Center, within 20 feet of bus stops and in parks or portions of parks where the city administrator has approved a sign prohibiting smoking. The ordinance should be approved because of its potential to increase the city’s air quality and public health.
Warpehoski said he wrote the ordinance in response to complaints about smoking in parks and bus stops and from businesses that are located near popular smoking areas. Currently, there is an ordinance banning smoking near building entrances, but only the Washtenaw County Health Department can enforce it. Under the new ordinance, police will have the power to write citations for violations for as much as $50 if the smokers refuse to comply. During Monday night’s council meeting, Warpehoski asked for the official ruling to be postponed, saying he wanted more time to finalize it and talk with the Park Advisory Commission. The council will revisit the issue on March 3.
The proposed policy would benefit the citizens of Ann Arbor who do not smoke and do not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke. While one has the right to smoke or not smoke, there are not always opportunities to avoid second-hand smoke in public places. Bus stops are often crowded and those in that area have to be in close proximity to other riders for upward of 15 minutes. Furthermore, disallowing smoking in congested areas of public parks allows more citizens to enjoy the area and will protect children who frequent the parks. Smoking is a personal choice and the right to make that choice should not be unnecessarily encroached on. However, the health rights of others are just as important, and no one has the right to infringe on those of others.
The new policy looks out for the well-being of Ann Arbor citizens while allowing ample legal outdoor areas in which to smoke. Parks will not automatically receive a no-smoking sign, and in some cases only parts of a park will be designated as non-smoking. If enforced, the ordinance will protect everyone in the designated areas from secondhand smoke, which poses significant health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to secondhand smoke can raise a non-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent and raise the likelihood of having a heart attack. Having children exposed to secondhand smoke in playgrounds, parks and bus stops is especially troubling. It can lead to coughing, induce an asthma attack, and, if persistent, might inhibit lung development.
Despite the health consequences of tobacco, the decision of whether or not to smoke is still a personal one. For that reason, Ann Arbor, or any other area, should not implement a full smoking ban. The value of this proposed ordinance lies in its efforts to limit secondhand smoke in areas where escaping it would be unreasonably difficult. Other areas should be preserved as smoker-friendly. There is no need to limit smoking on all outdoor public property, and doing so would violate the rights of smokers. Instead, the city should make every effort to create outdoor smoking areas and allow smoking where doing so would not violate the rights of non-smokers with a need to use the same space.
The city council should approve the ordinance in order to create a safe environment for city children, citizens and visitors. A cleaner Ann Arbor would improve its image, citizen health and usage of certain businesses and parks.