Ann Arbor Takes Steps Towards An Outdoor Smoking Ban

Monday evening, Ann Arbor City Council passed a controversial ordinance which would limit outdoor smoking. The new ordinance, passed by a nine to two vote, will ban smoking within ten feet of a bus stop and within 20 feet of city buildings. Violators of the outdoor smoking ban ordinance will be issued a civil infraction similar to what the city police issue for possession of marijuana. Ann Arbor is not the first to implement outdoor smoking bans, but this is the same city that is the home of the famous “Hash Bash” that takes place every April on the University of Michigan campus.

Ann Arbor’s new smoking ban will also make it illegal to smoke in areas of Ann Arbor parks at the discretion of the city administrator. Some find this a waste of the Ann Arbor police officer’s time, which was a major consideration in the votes that were made against the smoking ban. Some citizens also feel that it demonstrates the government overstepping its bounds.

The new Ann Arbor smoking ban is meant to protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but it is actually, at least in part, is designed to convince Ann Arbor smokers to quit their smoking habit. MLIVE reported that Julie Grand, a former chairperson for Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission, said, “The policy also makes it more difficult for people to smoke, which is a good thing,” she said. “Anti-smoking policies and smoking bans contribute to social norms that make smoking less desirable and less acceptable, and that’s what we want to do.”

Dr. Jyoti Patel of Northwestern University School of Medicine was quoted by Forbes as saying, “The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.” Patel said that even though cancer studies have shown mixed conclusions pertaining to second hand smoke, the CDC still asserts that SHS causes 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 cancer deaths every year. Forbes reported that the studies that show the strongest links are case-control studies where the diseased people have a tendency to recall exposure to something that can be blamed for their disease.

According to Forbes, one of the largest studies of SHS published by the Journal Of The National Cancer Institute was unable to find a strong link between non-smokers exposed to smoking and cancer. The study concluded, “among women who had never smoked, exposure to passive smoking overall, and to most categories of passive smoking, did not statistically significantly increase lung cancer risk. The only category of exposure that showed a trend toward increased risk was living in the same house with a smoker for 30 years or more.”

Cancer is not the only concern with second hand smoke though. Being around contaminated air from smoking strangers can cause asthmatic and allergic reactions in people who are vulnerable to the chemicals in the air from cigarette smoking. Slate featured the work of James Repace, a former EPA staff scientist. Repace pointed out, “There are millions of asthmatics in this country” and he said that second hand outdoor smoke levels can sometimes be “high enough to trigger an asthmatic attack in susceptible persons.”

Ann Arbor’s limited ban on smoking has most asthmatics on social media expressing their gratitude towards the Ann Arbor City Council. The consensus is “your rights end when they start harming me.” Some parents hope that in light of the city’s favorable decision to protect the health of the public, Ann Arbor will become a trailblazer for their allergic children as well. A press release in Ann Arbor disclosed the survey results of a health related poll organized by NPR and Thomson Reuters. The survey said that among all respondents, 59 percent would support a ban of common food allergens, like peanuts, in public places. Some children can die from minute exposure to peanuts and parents hope the ban in favor of public health will soon extend to protect their children’s allergies as well.

What is your perspective on Ann Arbor’s new ordinance that will ban smoking in many outdoor public areas?

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