At a meeting of the Seattle Board of Parks Commissioners on April 16, people were split over a plan to ban smoking in Seattle’s more than 400 publicly accessible parks. The board collected public comment at the meeting and will deliberate on the proposal May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at 100 Dexter Ave. N.
The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled the plan earlier this spring that follows similar bans in 1,000 other cities in the United States. The board will make a recommendation on the proposed ban, but Christopher Williams, acting parks director, will make the final decision.
At the commissioners’ meeting, advocates who work on parks, environmental issues, homelessness, public health and cancer came out to voice their opinion. Real Change vendors and staff also attended to oppose the rule.
Those in support of the smoking ban argued that it would clear the air in parks, clean the environment and promote healthy living. Barbara Clabots of Seattle Surfrider, an organization that advocates for improving the health of the Puget Sound, brought a large water jug filled with discarded cigarette butts that her organization had picked up near the water. The butts are not compostable paper, she said.
“They are actually plastic, and they leak toxins when wet,” Clabots said.
Others said smoking is too harmful to smokers and people around them, even from a distance.
“I understand that homeless people feel the police are coming down on them,” said Uri Cohen, who is also homeless. “If they would quit smoking and end the mutating of the DNA of everybody, it would be quite kosher.”
Those who were opposed worried that the ban would be enforced disproportionately on homeless people who often have nowhere to smoke but in the parks. Jim Page, a long-time street musician, said homeless people can’t kick addictions to tobacco while they are living on the street. Often times smoking
can be a self-soothing way to deal with the trauma of being homeless.
“If you don’t want homeless people smoking in the park, give them housing,” he said. “That’s the solution.”
Some noted that existing park rules and laws can address the problem, such as smoking near other park patrons or littering. They argued that the city should ramp up enforcement on existing rules before creating new ones.
If the ban is enacted, park rangers and officers will have the authority to expel people from parks for up to a day or fine them $27 if they ignore repeated warnings to stop smoking in the parks.
The ban is intended to be enforced lightly, at first, with verbal and written warnings.
Parks staff conceded that there is a risk that this law could be harmful to homeless people. About 73 percent of homeless people smoke tobacco, according to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“I think it is fair and honest to say that we think there could be disproportionate impact,” said Susanne Rockwell of Parks and Recreation. “I think it’s also important to point out that the homeless have as much of a right to healthy environments.”