Our view: Lakewalk smoking ban welcome, but not enough
On Monday, the Duluth City Council did the right thing by making it illegal to light up on the Lakewalk or in its adjoining public parks. Duluthians and visitors alike can take a deep breath of now-guaranteed clean air to cheer and to thank counc...
On Monday, the Duluth City Council did the right thing by making it illegal to light up on the Lakewalk or in its adjoining public parks. Duluthians and visitors alike can take a deep breath of now-guaranteed clean air to cheer and to thank councilors Patrick Boyle, Jim Stauber, Jennifer Julsrud, Dan Hartman, Linda Krug and Emily Larson for approving the measure (councilors Sharla Gardner, Jay Fosle and Garry Krause voted in opposition).
But the City Council could have gone further. It could have cleared the air in all city parks and public spaces by toughening what's now just a policy against tobacco in parks and making that law, too.
Call it a missed opportunity, though the council did achieve what seemed obvious to most its main objective: giving police another tool in the crackdown on the dangerous use of synthetic drugs purchased at a downtown head shop and smoked or used on the nearby Lakewalk and Lake Place Park. And the council did offer some relief to neighbors of Duluth East High School who have been complaining since at least last year about students using the stretch of the Lakewalk near their school to light up, often leaving filthy butts behind.
Councilor Krug, a former smoker, noted Duluth's reputation as a place for healthy outdoor recreation, a valuable reputation that's worth holding on to and that promises to be bolstered by any smoking ban. It can especially be bolstered by a ban along the high-profile Lakewalk.
An estimated 5,500 Minnesotans per year die from smoking-related illnesses, Councilor Boyle pointed out. Providing medical care to dying smokers costs about $611 per household each year, he said. Whose household wouldn't rather spend that on something else?
Everyone should be able to enjoy public parks free of the stench, haze and health concerns related to smoking and secondhand smoke -- just like they can enjoy restaurants and other smoke-free public buildings. Secondhand smoke dropped 95 percent in restaurants and bars since the state's Freedom to Breathe Act went into effect in 2007. That especially benefited bartenders and wait staff who deserve a safe environment in which to work. And the positive result didn't come at the expense of the restaurant and tavern industry, as some feared.
An overwhelming 77 percent of Minnesotans now agree: Going smoke-free in our restaurants and bars was the healthy and right thing to do, according to ClearWay Minnesota, a science-centered, statewide smoking-cessation group.
Going smoke-free in all of Duluth's parks also would be the right and healthy thing to do. The City Council can let the Lakewalk, Leif Erikson Park and Lake Place Park be just the first step toward that worthy goal.