The police state in action

I loathe cigarette smoke. I hate the way it permeates my clothes, hair and even my skin. I’m in agony when I’m trapped in a room with smokers. And because a room is a closed space and the smoke has nowhere to go, I’m okay with smoking bans inside buildings that are open to the public — although I think that bars or restaurants should be able to decide for themselves whether they want their customers to be able to smoke around food or drink. They’ll lose customers like me, but I may not be the customer base they want to attract.

However, I’m really opposed to banning smoking in the open air. To me, that goes beyond courtesy to non-smokers, who cannot escape smoke when they’re confined in an enclosed space, and becomes persecution of a legal activity. Nevertheless, that’s precisely what San Francisco is doing. I turns out that, a couple of years ago, San Francisco made it illegal to smoke in public parks, a law that the cops sensibly ignored. However, now they’re putting effort into enforcing it (probably because smoker’s are a more compliant population than the one that’s really getting into trouble):

The City has just issued the first-ever $100 fine for violating a ban on smoking in San Francisco’s parks even though the law is more than two years old and people continue to smoke in parks. The first citation was issued last week to a patron of Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, which has received attention recently from several city departments after Mayor Gavin Newsom visited the park in March and was angered by its condition.

The City Administrator’s Office — in conjunction with other departments including the Police Department and Public Works —has worked to clean up the park and also to inform users about the smoking ban.

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Despite the recent citation and outreach — which included the posting of no-smoking signs, installation of ashtrays on litter cans near park entrances and fliers handed out explaining the ban — at least six people were observed by The Examiner smoking Monday around 2 p.m. in different locations in the park. Smokers included members of card games and a man sitting on a park bench. No one was around enforcing the ban.

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Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who wrote the law, said it was “outrageous” that the first citation was only just issued last week. “Clearly no one is enforcing it,” she said. The supervisor said she would look into “why this is not being implemented.”

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In 2005, the Board of Supervisors, citing the health risks associated with secondhand smoke, adopted the smoking ban in city parks and it was signed by Newsom. The law authorizes a $100 fine for first offenders and up to $500 for repeat offenses.

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  • Ophiuchus

    I too am deeply resentful of smoking, and I share your disapproval of this regulation. There is no substantive health hazard associated with this kind of smoking. Yes, it can be irritating to people who want perfectly clean air, but I’m willing to hold my breath for a few seconds as I walk by the isolated smokers.

    I think that there would be a case if the parks were choking with smokers and you couldn’t enjoy the park at all without encountering smokers, but I doubt that’s the case here.

  • jj

    Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier might want to put some thought into the validity of laws that not even the cops will voluntarily enforce.

    Looking into why it’s not being enforced might lead her to the unwelcome news that it’s probably because most people think she’s an idiot.

  • SGT Dave

    All,
    I agree that this is a very bad measure, right up there with jaywalking in terms of lack of enthusiasm for enforcement. Most police officers I know hate to have to write these types of citations; they feel that their time is wasted on these kind of “crimes”. It also causes a basic resentment in the population towards the law – the long-term effect is similar to that of speeding. Almost everyone I know concedes that they will drive 3-8 mph over the limit and officers only enforce the letter of the law in the most extreme circumstances. However, the lack of respect for speeding leads to lack of respect for other traffic laws – cheating through the end of a yellow light, passing in prohibited zones, and other things. It has become normal to ignore the rules if no one is there to enforce them. The small steps lead to larger ones (the “gateway” theory applies here as with intoxicants).
    There’s no good solution for the issue; either we, by our actions, show that we have contempt for the law or we spend resources needed for other issues on enforcing a law from which few, if any, receive a benefit.
    They should probably rescind the ban and work on giving fines for littering (throwing away the butts instead of disposing properly). Smoke isn’t going to be a problem, but those butts are disgusting. And look! The littering law is probably popular, will be supported by the whole population (who wants to be on the wrong side of that issue?), and the officers assigned can at least feel they are preventing something solid – the detrius of litter does not dissipate on the wind.
    Just my two cents,
    SGT Dave
    “You wouldn’t believe the conditions here.”