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Our Opinion

OUR OPINION: Too much loss for too little gain

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opinion Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

There’s no doubt that banning smoking on Grand Forks Park District property, including outdoor parks, would have benefits.

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There’s also no doubt that a solid majority of Grand Forks residents would like to enjoy those benefits. The Park District’s numbers — “overwhelming support in Grand Forks for the adoption of comprehensive tobacco-free parks,” as Park Board Member Molly Soeby notes in her nearby column — are persuasive.

But are the benefits worth the costs?

We’d argue that the answer is no. The case for banning tobacco in parks is much weaker than the case for banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Secondhand smoke in indoor areas is a health hazard; secondhand smoke in parks is inconsequential, making a ban “pointless” from that traditional perspective, as Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health has written.

Recognizing this, supporters of outdoor tobacco-use bans now say the benefits will come from setting a good example. When tobacco use is “denormalized,” children seldom will see smokers lighting up, and that will discourage the youngsters from becoming smokers themselves, or so the theory goes.

But that’s not a good enough reason to further clamp down on personal freedom.

In America, the Land of the Free, “the informed choice to use a legal product is normal,” said Audrey Silk, a smoker’s rights activist in New York City.

It’s the government’s effort to restrict this informed choice that’s the aberration, Silk told the health committee of the New York City Council in 2010.

The council was considering (and eventually passed) a ban on smoking in New York’s parks. Silk was having none of it: “Compared to what we’re witnessing today, cigarette smoke smells like roses,” she said.

“The shame to bear is yours, not mine.”

Freedom, not control, should be the default setting of American governance; and officials should deviate from that setting only on the strongest of evidence. Secondhand smoke in workplaces arguably reached that threshold. But the “bad example” set by a free American sitting on a park bench and enjoying a cigarette does not. 

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