Smoking Ban Misguided

In last week’s article “Burlington considers going smoke-free,” Brent Summers wrote about the Burlington City Council’s proposed resolution to ban smoking downtown.  As a nonsmoker, this resolution is not likely to impact my life whatsoever.  While the idea of being able to walk along Church Street without having to breathe in somebody else’s nicotine-ridden exhale does seem nice, City Councilor Paul Decelles’ criticism is a good one: The resolution targets loiterers, especially teenagers.  The city council is looking to clean up Burlington’s quaint New England image, not to advance the rights of asthmatics to clean air downtown.  If it was really interested in the greater consequences of second-hand smoke, the resolution would not be limited to the downtown area. The city has done similar things in the past.  Last fall, Seven Days ran an article called “The Preservation Police,” which exposed the complete abuse of power on the part of the historic preservation specialist at the Department of Planning and Zoning.  He granted the authority to deny construction permits to projects that are not “in keeping with Burlington’s old-style charm,” for reasons of historical inaccuracy in design or materials or if the “design would upset the rhythm of the structure” in the 60 percent of the parcels of land in Burlington. This is a picturesque little city and the local government goes to great lengths to keep it that way.  Whether it’s replacing old wooden clapboard siding with Hardie board or lighting up in front of Henry’s Diner, these offenses are not likely to ruin the Queen City.  If the City Council is interested in deterring citizens from smoking, it should put its energy behind the proposed cigarette tax increase; if it is interested in keeping cigarette butts from being strewn across Church Street it should purchase a few more ashtrays and ticket the litterbugs.  If it is interested in preserving the city’s image at the expense of citizens’ rights to occupy public spaces free of harassment, as I believe they are, it should settle down and come to terms with the fact that the old devil Time will reach us, even here in Vermont.