A Derry mother wants her young children to enjoy town-owned parks without worrying about secondhand smoke.
That’s reasonable and responsible parenting. There’s no arguing smoking is unhealthy for those who do it, as well as for those around them.
Last week, Nicole Bump asked the Town Council to consider restricting, if not banning, smoking in Derry’s many public parks.
She takes her children to the park for exercise and fresh air, she said, but too often ends up keeping them off the swings because someone is smoking nearby.
Anyone who has ever shared space with a smoker, spent a spring afternoon picking up cigarettes butts along with other roadside litter, or watched a loved one succumb to lung cancer or emphysema can empathize.
But Town Councilors need to tread carefully.
While several councilors were quick to embrace the idea of a smoking ban in town parks, some were a little more cautious.
Former longtime smoker Councilor Al Dimmock was all for a ban, saying he knows all too well the risks associated with secondhand smoke. Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores wants to expand the idea, including the rail trail, dog park and transfer station in the ban.
But Councilor Mark Osborne inserted a few words of caution.
“I don’t want Derry to turn into the anti-smoking Gestapo,” he said. “I know, everything is always about the kids, but a lot of adults out there who pay taxes want to be able to enjoy the streets, the parks, the transfer station and walking paths.”
Indeed, few smokers are likely proud of their habit, but they, too, have rights. An outright public property ban seems extreme.
First off, what about common courtesy? If a smoking adult is insensitive enough to light up in close proximity to children, another adult ought to reasonably and politely ask them to snuff out the offensive butt or move elsewhere to finish it off.
If that fails, then the responsible parent should remove his or her children from the area. Yes, the children may miss out on a few minutes of playground time, but their health matters more.
Failing that, if the problem is as commonplace and invasive as those speaking out say, then the town should carefully consider banning smoking in the areas immediately around playground equipment or, in the case of Hood Park and Gallien’s Town Beach, the waterfront.
Smokers already are banned from indoor public spaces — and correctly so. Being confined in an indoor space with people who are lighting up isn’t fair.
But the great outdoors, as Osborne pointed put, belongs to everyone — even those who choose to smoke.
To suggest all public property be made into smoke-free zones is unreasonable and also unfair. As despicable as smokers may be to many, they, too, have rights. Yes, they pay taxes, including millions of dollars in cigarette taxes the state of New Hampshire counts on every year to swell its coffers.
There are polite smokers and not-so-polite smokers. Most, when asked politely, will move away or extinguish their cigarette.
But rules are made for those who don’t practice common courtesy. So, instituting a limited smoking ban in town parks to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke is a reasonable idea.
The town already limits smoking outside the municipal center to 45 feet and outright bans smoking on all school property. Police don’t have time to do smoking enforcement, Capt. Vern Thomas said, but will speak to smokers when they encounter them in the course of doing their everyday patrols. Most, Thomas pointed out, are cooperative.
If the town wants to further restrict smoking, officials ought to make certain they also provide receptacles for those cigarette and cigar butts that litter the streets, trails and roadsides.
This is the Live Free or Die state, where people don’t have to buckle up, wear motorcycle helmets and can purchase all manner of explosives as fireworks. Personal freedom is highly valued in the Granite State — and that includes the freedom to light up in areas designated legal to do so.
Short of declaring tobacco illegal, the state and its municipalities must tread carefully when further restricting smokers’ rights. Yes, children deserve to enjoy town-owned beaches, parks and playgrounds free of secondhand smoke, but smokers must be afforded the same privilege, if in a designated area.