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Jeb Bladine: Multiple intents of new smoking law

In three weeks, smoking outdoors will be banned along Third Street in downtown McMinnville. The ban will extend from Adams to Johnson streets, plus 50 feet to the north and south.

Enforcement should be straightforward, as violators should be easy to spot. But the motives behind the new law are anything but simple. They include:

Concern for the smoker’s health. The health of tobacco smokers is at risk, and no one wants to watch them pound another nail into an early casket. So, smokers, we’re just doing it because we love you!

Danger to others: Smoking already is prohibited inside places of public accommodation, and near their entrances and exit doors. But even outdoor wisps of nicotine-laced smoke are said to be an irritant worthy of legal suppression. So, smokers, you’re threatening public welfare by adding cigarette residue to downtown air already laced with gasoline fumes.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Littering: After all, an irresponsible smoker might litter the sidewalk with cigarette butts.

So, there you have it — all the reasons we need to snuff out smoking along Third Street.

Oh, we almost forgot one other small factor: Ridding downtown of loitering troublemakers. In truth, what really triggered the downtown smoking ban was a community desire to move certain people away from main pedestrian walkways, if not from the surrounding downtown area.

Some of those people are financially displaced and homeless. Others are vagrants or idlers. Some suffer from mental illness, others impairment caused by substance abuse.

Many either smoke or hang out with smokers, and that’s the crux of the new law. The smoking ban is constitutional as long as it’s enforced evenly. It might not work exactly as planned, but it represents one more way to make the downtown core less appealing to drifters and street people.

We cannot selectively enforce the law to target the homeless, but we can regulate offensive or nuisance behavior. Local smokers who frequent or work in downtown businesses will have to take one for the team — a sacrifice which may increase if it becomes necessary to expand the new no-smoking boundaries.

As an ex-smoker from decades ago, I almost want to sympathize with those who soon will lose their customary break spots. On the other hand, maybe more people will kick the habit.

Meanwhile, the community will continue working to help homeless people escape their difficult lifestyle, which will require more than a smoking ban.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.
 

Comments

Don Dix

Jeb -- It's rather evident that the homeless situation downtown is the prime and only reason for the smoking ban on 3rd. Otherwise, internal combustion traffic would be banned if the actual concern was health and a fresh air environment. Any other explanation is simply a diversion from the underlying truth.

It appears (from your approach) that you might have the same belief.

Jeb Bladine

Yes, Don ... but it may be necessary to cite other reasonable motives to avoid accusations that the new law purely targets homeless people. Bans on loitering -- or sleeping on a public sidewalk -- can be declared unconstitutional.

Don Dix

So, it 'may be necessary' for the city to basically fabricate any reason to avoid the appearance (to the courts) that the homeless are the actual target of this ban. Oops -- disregard that testimony!

The larger question would be -- 'what happens if this doesn't work as planned?'.

Paul Daquilante

Sheridan has a smoking ban. It extends over a good portion of Bridge Street, and to the east and west for a ways on Main Street.

It's not working anywhere near as well as the city had hoped.

Paul Daquilante / reporter

Jeb Bladine

There may be similarities to the president's original "travel ban," Don -- which subsequently was altered into something that passed Supreme Court muster. But in this case, there already is a statewide ban against smoking within 10 feet of any doorway into public place or place of employment, and arguably, enforcement of that law is hugely less complicated simply through a ban on smoking along an extended area of the primary downtown core.

So, while problem behaviors may have sparked the recent action, the city -- as do other jurisdictions -- have plenty to fall back on for reasons to expand the ban.

Sal Peralta

People certainly have different reasons for voting for things. However, I disagree with the implication that a smoking ban that is, at least partially aimed at loitering, is primarily related to homelessness. Most of the problems I see with loitering on third and in city park are not homeless people but teenagers hanging out. Most of the testimony we received complaining about smoking was not to do with homeless people but with people smoking in front of the Blue Moon. I don't believe that the extension of the ban to city parks was primarily driven by concerns about homelessness either, but instead due to the fact that there are a lot of kids in our parks.

Mudstump

It seems to me that the smoking ban is a wild stab in the dark aimed at fixing a problem that is way more complex. It takes money, people and resources to address homelessness because it is a multi-faceted issue. I suppose the council and business leaders can say that they did something to address the problem even if it is a feeble and inadequate attempt.

Sal Peralta

Mudstump - I was surprised that some of the staff and the paper have reported this as something that primarily targets homelessness and disagree with that analysis for the reasons I have given. Passing this ordinance allows our police to enforce the state ban on smoking in front of businesses on third street, which they could not enforce without a corresponding city ordinance. The ban on smoking in city parks mirrors a similar ban in state and federal parks. To me it is a relatively uncontroversial policy. Sheridan has a similar ban on Bridge street. When we look at the data at the end of the year, I suspect that there will be few actual enforcement actions and most will be against young loiterers in city park and on third street. If the intent were to target homelessness in the downtown, the council could have extended the smoking ban to the alleys between second and third or all the way to the churches. That's not what the council did. Instead, we created an ordinance that allows our city police to enforce the state ban on smoking near the entrances of stores on third street. To make it easier for them to enforce that ban, we extended it along the entire street. We attempted to accommodate smokers at businesses like the Blue Moon by extending the area for permitted smoking in the alleyway behind their business between second and third.

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