David Lauderdale

One of these days, we, too, will have smoke-free parks and beaches

A good idea went up in smoke Tuesday night in Beaufort.

City Council said no to a suggestion from town staff that smoking be banned in city parks.

A similar suggestion was aired earlier this year for Beaufort County parks, but it hasn't gotten anywhere.

On Hilton Head Island, the list of stuff you cannot do on the beach fills a sign large enough to block the sun, but smoking hasn't yet made it.

Smoking was banned earlier in local restaurants and bars, but the sentiment in Beaufort seemed to be that we're not ready yet to take that walk in the park.

The suggestion was not unusual or onerous.

According to a "PBS NewsHour" report on the issue this week, smoking has been banned in 843 parks and on more than 150 beaches nationwide in the last two decades.

Colorado Springs, Colo., is currently considering it. It seeks to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its residents and visitors, specifically targeting secondhand smoke, litter and potential fires.

Smoking was banned on Waikiki Beach this year, and next week comes a vote in Washington, D.C., that would ban smoking in any of our capital's federal parks, including the National Mall.

The PBS report focused on a new study published in the Health Affairs periodical. It raises a good question about the smoking bans: Why?

The study's abstract states, "Three justifications for these (smoking) restrictions have been invoked: the risk of passive smoke to nonsmokers, the pollution caused by cigarette butts, and the long-term risks to children from seeing smoking in public.

"Our analysis of the evidence for these claims found it far from definitive and in some cases weak. What, then, accounts for the efforts to impose such bans? We conclude that the impetus is the imperative to denormalize smoking as part of a broader public health campaign to reduce tobacco-related illness and death."

Governments are urged to be honest with the public on what they want and why.

To me, that's simple. Smoking is a nuisance to those who choose not to smoke and don't want to be around it. These days, most smokers probably accommodate that. But because non-smokers are not instigating the nuisance, they should be held harmless in the enjoyment of a public place.

People always yammer about personal freedoms.

But someone has already taken his alleged right to smoke cigarettes in a public park all the way to the Supreme Court, which this spring flicked his case into the gutter with no comment. A federal judge and appeals-court panel had already rejected the smoker's lawsuit against a Missouri city.

The court declined his invitation to declare smoking a fundamental right.

And it said the city didn't have to prove that exposure to outdoor secondhand smoke actually causes harm, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The courts ruled it was reasonable enough that the city relied on a 1999 National Cancer Institute report that said secondhand smoke is responsible for the early deaths of 53,000 Americans each year.

Also, the U.S. surgeon general has concluded there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

One of these days, it will happen here. And then we can all inhale.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

Ban on smoking in parks nixed, July 9, 2013 PBS: The real reason behind public smoking bans