In Our View: Still Deadly, Still Illegal

Six months later, Vancouver's ban on smoking in parks still makes sense



Secondhand smoke is still deadly, and smoking is still banned in Vancouver parks. Those might seem like a couple of no-duh proclamations, but we feel obliged to make these twin reminders after a recent Columbian story reported that smokers are still spotted in Vancouver parks puffing away, and enforcement of the park-smoking ban passed by Vancouver City Council six months ago seems has not been a top priority. Vancouver Police Department has issued only three citations for tobacco use in parks.No doubt, this news will prompt plenty of we-told-you-so taunts from the raspy-voiced defenders of so-called smokers’ rights. But here are several more reminders based on both the July 19 story and previous editorials supporting the ban on smoking in parks:

It’s been just six months. Word of the ban on smoking in Vancouver parks is still spreading. Clark County Public Health Director John Wiesman recently said Vancouver’s ban “is a culture change and it’s going to take awhile. In part, we’re all counting on people who are there to help people be reminded that (Vancouver parks are) tobacco-free.”

For that reason, Vancouver police officers often are giving warnings and educating people about the ban on smoking in parks.

This is not a debate about personal liberty. It’s a matter of public health. Vancouver’s ban on smoking in parks was approved in response to a request from the Clark County Health Department.

The fine for smoking in a Vancouver park remains $325. Do you feel lucky? Failure to comply could be costly in more ways than just financial. When two of the three recipients of citations did not appear in court as scheduled, warrants were issued for their arrests.

This ban is not a high priority for police officers, nor should it be during a time when resources are limited and staffing is down. But the need for the law remains strong. As Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said, “Most reasonable people understand that there are not enough police officers, and that as a community we’re not willing to pay the taxes necessary to have a police officer on every corner … looking for every single violation of our laws and ordinances.” Indeed, many people violate minor laws every day. That doesn’t mean the laws — this one described by Leavitt as “prudent public policy” — should be wiped off the books.

This ban might not be a high priority now, but tactics can change on a moment’s notice. Law enforcement agencies often trigger temporary crack-downs on specific violations. So again we ask: Do you feel lucky?

As we’ve noted before, no one’s right to smoke has been denied. It’s just been zoned, just as smoking was zoned out of indoor public places by 63 percent of voters who approved a statewide ban six years ago. Smoke to your heart’s content, just not in a Vancouver park.

If initial compliance on this ban has not been full, part of the blame might rest with inconsistent policies around the county. Clark County commissioners recently considered a countywide ban on smoking in parks, but ultimately refrained and failed to do what’s right. Instead they discussed a bunch of silly exceptions and complicated and confusing subpolicies. We again call on the county commissioners to follow the good example set by Vancouver city councilors.

No trends or emerging statistics will change this fact: The Dec. 5 vote by city councilors remains unanimous, and properly so.