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March 25, 2010

Will Burlington's New Smoking Ban Be Enforced? Don't Butt on It

Local-smoker_0 The outdoor smoking ban enacted by the Burlington City Council this week comes with hefty fines for those caught lighting up in city parks and on beaches: $50 to $200 per offense.

But will police really enforce the prohibition? After all, this is Burlington — a town where open pot smoking has been tolerated every April at UVM's annual 420 Festival.

"Much like idling, education and peer/citizen reminders will be the primary tool in any smoking ordinance enforcement," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling tells Blurt. "Actual tickets will, generally, be a last resort."

City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-5), who chairs the Ordinance Committee that crafted the smoking ban, also foresees no big crackdown.

"Have you ever known anyone to be ticketed for smoking in a no smoking area?" Shannon says. "I haven't."

Instead, Shannon envisions enforcement playing out like this: "Someone will light up, and someone else will notice and say, 'Excuse me. You might not know, but this is actually a no smoking area.' And the cigarette will be promptly extinguished," Shannon says.

One place smokers definitely won't get busted: Church Street. The Marketplace was spared from the outdoor smoking ban, in part because several merchants warned that it would hurt their already struggling businesses.

The smoking ban that passed the Burlington City Council 11-2 on Monday night was the brainchild of City Councilor Karen Paul (I-6), who initially proposed to ban smoking on the waterfront bike path and later expanded the proposal to include all city parks and the Church Street Marketplace.

Burlington banned indoor smoking in 2004 and now joins a small but growing number of cities expanding such prohibitions to outdoor gathering places. Paul calls the parks and beaches ban "a great first step" and says the council could look to broaden the ban in the future.

"Perhaps doing something where outdoor eating establishments can allow smoking within their defined area," Paul says.

Paul says the ordinance takes effect immediately, and "No Smoking" signs will begin going up in designated outdoor nonsmoking areas.

But don't necessarily expect ticket-writing cops to follow them. Expect, instead, to get educated.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen

Doesn't the Burlington Police Department have much, much better things to do - and the city council for that matter? It's amazing that there are all these other issues - like the still mostly empty Moran plant, the crumbling of Burlington Telecom and perhaps the city's financial future along with it - and yet there's still time to focus on something as insignificant and pointless as a ban that attempts to turn the police department into hall monitors?

For those of us with severe allergy to the chemicals in commercial cigarettes, the problem is hardly insignificant.

Well, I am allergic to tree pollen...shall we cut down the trees for my comfort? I am also very annoyed by the sounds of young children...shall we ban them from public parks and the Church Street Market Place? I say yes. I want this city to be for me and people like me. People who don't want children around and get allergies from trees. I'd also like to ban the eating of animals because I find it disgusting as well as those unsightly neon houses in the Old North End. And while we're at it let's ban poor people from living here. They don't dress nicely, they smoke and their learning impaired children are lowering my property value. Who's with me??

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