Another win for smoke-free parks in Pierce County

From the Editorial Board

Public smoking just got a little tougher in the City of Fife, with the ban of tobacco use in all seven city parks.
Public smoking just got a little tougher in the City of Fife, with the ban of tobacco use in all seven city parks. News Tribune file photo

With its Interstate 5 truck stop vibe and proximity to sovereign tribal lands and smoke shops, Fife is a community where smokers can puff away with relative impunity. Lighting up a cigarette in the city of 10,000 residents traditionally causes fewer nostrils to flare in disgust than elsewhere in Pierce County.

At the iconic Poodle Dog restaurant, smokers were valued customers who were still sitting at the front counter in the early 2000s, long after most restaurants had corralled them in designated pens. Today, more than a decade after the state banned indoor public smoking, smokers can find sanctuary at the Emerald Queen Casino.

So the fact that the Fife City Council voted last week to ban smoking in all seven of its parks — albeit in a divided 4-to-2 vote — illustrates the extent to which tobacco use has become anathema in mainstream society.

The ban goes into effect this week, on Tuesday, although it will take longer for “no smoking” signs to be posted. The ordinance bans all tobacco products, smoking and e-cigarettes/vaping in Fife parks. Violators will technically face a civil infraction and a $50 fine, though city leaders and police emphasize the ordinance is an education tool, and smokers won’t receive anything more stern than a warning.

Fife is a johnny-come-lately compared with other area public park providers. Tacoma adopted a smoking ban in 2009, Gig Harbor in 2007 and Puyallup in 2005. The Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District banned smoking and tobacco products from its 21 properties in 2012.

With regard to Fife, anti-smoking activists might be tempted to sneer: “It’s about time.”

The better response would be admiration for the democratic process, and respect for the way the City Council and parks advisory board spent weeks hashing out details and weighing the balance between personal freedom and public health.

Instead of a ban, they debated among themselves, should they create designated smoking areas or a buffer between playgrounds, picnic shelters and other gathering places — similar to what Lakewood did two years ago? Should there be different smoking rules in large community parks than in smaller neighborhood parks? Should they prescribe the size of the fine or leave it to police discretion?

In the end, the council decided an outright ban was the best way to protect people and the most practical option for law enforcement.

Banning tobacco use in the great wide open is a tougher call than prohibiting it indoors; smoke dissipates faster outdoors, conditions are variable, and the science is inconclusive. But parks attract children, and leaders must err on the side of shielding youth from secondhand smoke. They also must do what they can to de-normalize the use of tobacco in social settings where kids watch adults closely.

Most local park patrons apparently want to clear the air. The Tobacco-Free Alliance of Pierce County surveyed more than 200 people at several community festivals in 2013 and found that 85 percent of respondents wanted their parks to be smokeless.

Whether it’s a symbolic gesture or a real blow against the world’s leading cause of preventable death, congratulations to Fife for defending predominant public-health values. Now Fife leaders can focus on efforts such as opening the new Brookville Gardens Community Park — efforts the whole city can celebrate.