Thursday, March 25, 2010

Burlington Bans Smoking in Parks & Beaches

On Monday the Burlington city council voted unanimously to ban smoking at beaches and parks and has future plans to include a total ban on Church Street. (In 2004, the city banned smoking in restaurants and bars.) Explaining Monday's ruling, councilor Joan Shannon and current chair of the ordinance committee writes in her local Front Porch Forum, "there will be cleaner air in the areas of our parks where people tend to congregate." Surely this will displease some smokers and civil libertarians. We all know about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke in enclosed areas. While it may appear as common sense to ban smoking outdoors, scientific studies on the effects of second-hand smoke outdoors remain inconclusive.

Everyone hates smokers anyway, so the city council ruling was an easy, feel-good change to the city's ordinance.

How to enforce this new law is another matter. That's not been worked out. The smoking ban at the Cherry Street CCTA bus stop has not been enforced. (It should be noted that neither the city's pesticides ordinance nor the dogs-on-leash law is enforced to their full extent.) Appearance matters. The news of Monday's ruling is certainly a diversion from the bad press city council got from the Burlington Telecom mess (councilors knew what was going on and didn't do anything about it), so Monday's ruling gives the temporary positive impression that the council is doing some work.

The city allows car idling for three minutes. If the intention was to promote better health, what about cars idling while stopped on streets crossing the pedestrian Church Street? Exhaust is linked to increased rates of asthma in children and contributes to air pollution, too - probably more than SHS. What about the plethora of cars that park at beaches and parks. City Hall Park is surrounded on three sides by parking. What about run-off into our precious Lake? A total pedestrian zone downtown is unlikely. The tourists and merchants would complain and the city would lose lucrative revenue.

[Over a year ago, the Board of Health recommended to city council that Burlington stop water fluoridation, in light of new findings in the NRC Report on fluoride in drinking water, citing particularly its effects on infants, kidney patients, diabetics and the elderly. There have been a couple of hearings by the public safety committee, but the recommendation has been untouched by city council. Politics and priorities are at play here, of course. Common sense would tell us that a decision to remove fluoride should be easy as the one the council took on Monday evening, but I won't hold my breath.]

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