Council pair to take up city parks smoking ban

Boston’s public parks and green areas would join the growing list of areas where smoking is not allowed under a proposal that some local residents are cheering.

City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo and East Boston Councillor Salvatore LaMattina, who proposed the plan, will hold a hearing to suggest limits or restrictions across the city.

“We’re not going to curb 100 percent of smoking. No one believes that,” Arroyo said, emphasizing that a ban in parks would be meant to protect the children and families who use the parks. “I really want it to be the places where children, families and seniors go to spend their days.”

Mayor Thomas Menino, who has pushed to ban smoking in public housing developments and to shut down cigar bars, said he has questions about how such a ban would be enforced. City Council President Stephen Murphy, who is allergic to tobacco, also raised concerns over enforcement.

In an interview with the Reporter this week, Arroyo said that signs declaring smoke-free zones should be the main enforcement mechanism. “Most Bostonians want to follow the rules,” he said.

By installing signs and putting a ban on the books, Arroyo says, “we will see significantly less smoking” in the parks.

Arroyo said park rangers and other law enforcement officials should be the second line of enforcement and could be empowered to issue tickets to violators, though he has no dollar amount in mind for a fine.

Cynthia Loesch, president of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council, applauded the proposal. She said local residents around Wainwright Park are also in support. “Smokers are going to have to enjoy the park, but smoke someplace else,” she said.

Arroyo said he has talked about the plan informally with some of his colleagues on the 13-member council and there is a “mix” of support and opposition to the idea. The councillor said he will defer to the recommendations of the Boston Public Health Commission and other experts before putting forward a definite proposal.

The hearing to determine the feasibility of a park smoking ban has not yet been scheduled, but Arroyo expects to select a date shortly. The issue will be taken up by the Council’s Committee on Neighborhood Services, which is chaired by LaMattina.

According to Arroyo’s office, more than 400 communities have ordered smoking restrictions in public parks. Boston has banned smoking in restaurants and will institute a prohibition on smoking in public housing next year.

Earlier this month, New York City banned smoking in the city’s many public parks, in city squares, and along the coastline, and set a $50 fine for each violation. Arroyo said that he would not go as far as New York City and would not support expanding a ban into Boston’s squares.

City Council candidate Marty Hogan, who is running for current Councillor Maureen Feeney’s Dorchester-based District 3 seat, opposes a ban.

“It is an intrusion on smoker’s rights. I firmly understand the health issues of second hand smoke but feel that the proposal is going to [sic] far and is overstepping,” Hogan wrote in a press release responding to Arroyo’s and LaMattina’s proposal.

Arroyo disagreed, saying that a ban would stand up for the liberties of non-smokers and the right not to have to deal with the effects of tobacco. Parks are “there to encourage health and exercise,” he said. “It’s not illegal to smoke in this country and [this is] not my attempt to make it so.”

Davida Andelman, a neighborhood advocate and employee of Health Resources in Action, a Boston public health organization is supportive.

“The public should not be exposed to someone’s cigarette smoke in major public areas, and we applaud the efforts to eliminate smoking from our public parks,” she said.