Boston expected to ban smoking in parks
Menino expected to sign ordinance; officials cite gains on health, litter
Gilbert Farley, the self-appointed town crier of Boston Common, had just stamped out his half-smoked cigarette, delicately preserving it for later, when he learned the City Council had voted to ban smoking in public parks.
He was perturbed to hear that when the ordinance takes effect — likely in a few weeks — lighting up on the Common could cost him $250 .
“Who gives them the right to tell us what to do when we’re outside like this?” said Farley, 57. “The wind blows the smoke away. It shouldn’t bother anyone.”
City officials, however, said the ordinance, which passed unanimously last week and is expected to be signed soon by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, would reduce the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, curb litter, and help pressure smokers to kick the habit.
The ordinance would ban the smoking of cigarettes, marijuana, and other “lighted or vaporized” substances in 251 parks, squares, cemeteries, and other open spaces run by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.
Similar ordinances are in place in New York, San Francisco, and nearly 900 other municipalities around the country, including 20 in Massachusetts, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, a California group that tracks the legislation.
Before it takes effect, the ordinance will have to pass a vote by the city parks commission, which is expected to approve the measure next month.
“We’ve been trying to curb the amount of smoking in our parks, which has spiked since colleges, hospitals, and many private buildings and other institutions have banned it on their property,” said Antonia M. Pollak, commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department, adding that her staff has reported an increase of cigarette butts discarded in parks. “It’s the unintended consequences that smokers are migrating to the parks.”
Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission, said the ordinance would also provide an enforcement mechanism for a two-year-old ban adopted on smoking in the city’s 130 tot lots. Anyone caught smoking there also would be subject to the fine.
“This is the next logical step in creating healthy environments,” he said.
City councilors hailed the vote as a means to further discourage smoking in Boston.
Councilor Matt O’Malley, whose government operations committee held a hearing on the bill, said the number of city residents who identify themselves as smokers has fallen from about 25 percent in 2000 to about 16 percent in 2013.
“This will encourage smokers to smoke less,” he said, noting that the US Department of Health and Human Services has found that secondhand smoke causes 3,000 deaths a year from lung cancer and 46,000 deaths from heart disease.
“To completely avoid secondhand smoke, a person may have to move 25 feet away from the person smoking,” he said.
Discarded butts end up in the city’s water supply and can sicken animals, he added.
The smoking ban in the parks, which includes Boston Common, the Public Garden, and Franklin Park, comes after years of similar efforts.
Massachusetts banned smoking in restaurants, bars, and other workplaces in 2004. Since then, the city has prohibited smoking in outdoor areas considered workplaces, such as decks, patios, and loading docks used by employees, and the Boston Housing Authority has restricted smoking in public housing.
Maria Vargas, a bartender at Cigar Masters in the Back Bay, thinks the city has gone too far.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “People shouldn’t be discriminated against because they smoke. If people are outside in a public park, they should be free to smoke.”
But Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Menino, said there remain other public spaces where smokers can have a cigarette, such as sidewalks.
She and others said they hope the ordinance reduces the visibility of marijuana in public places, after voters last year approved a ballot referendum that legalized marijuana for medical use.
“Whether it’s cigarette or marijuana smoke, it can be harmful and send the wrong message to young children,” she said.
That was not persuasive to Nelson Peguero and Michael Evans, who exchanged drags while relaxing on a bench on Boston Common Tuesday morning.
They were less than enthusiastic about the newly passed ordinance.
“If you can’t smoke here, where can you smoke?” said Peguero, 29, who lives in a homeless shelter. “I think it should be our constitutional right to do what we like to do outdoors. Maybe they can make a special section of the park where we can smoke.”
Evans said he understands the threat of secondhand smoke, but he questioned the effects when the wind disperses it quickly.
“This goes too far,” said Evans, 41, who is also homeless. “It’s not going to be long until they tell us we can’t smoke on the sidewalks.”
Amelia Hassani lighted up as she left the Public Garden and mused on how her life will change.
“It sucks, I guess,” said Hassani, 26, of the North End, “especially on those nice, sunny days when all you want to do is sit in the park.”