Eugene City Council considers smoking ban in parks

Eugene may launch an outdoor smoking ban in a small part of the downtown in about three months.

The Eugene City Council on Wednesday wasn’t ready to pursue a smoking ban on city-center sidewalks and other outdoor public spaces. However, councilors learned that the city could outlaw smoking in the downtown Park Blocks, perhaps as early as September.

The Park Blocks are a magnet for groups of people who congregate, and, often, smoke.

Parks officials want to ban smoking from all city parks, which would include the Park Blocks, which are at Eighth Avenue and Oak Street.

“We are proposing parks to be smoke-free because many of our park patrons have requested we do so,” Craig Carnagey, parks and open space division director, said in an interview. “Several other public park agencies in Oregon have already gone smoke-free, including state parks, and we want to promote parks as a healthy option for people.”

The council would not need to approve a park smoking ban because parks rules are imposed through orders approved by the city manager.

Carnagey said the public in late July will be asked to comment on a smoking ban in parks.

If the city manager approves the ban, the prohibition could take effect in September, said Rene Grube, director of the city’s Library, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.

The City Council spent 45 minutes on Wednesday talking about imposing an outdoor smoking ban downtown.

The council discussion was requested by Councilor Greg Evans.

“I have received enough emails from people who have expressed deep concern about secondhand smoke in public areas, and the (health) effect that it has on children and adults,” said Evans, who has asthma and is allergic to cigarette smoke and other airborne irritants.

Yet Evans and most other councilors said they need more time to consider banning smoking from downtown sidewalks and other public places.

Council President Claire Syrett said she hears complaints about outdoor smoking from downtown residents in her ward.

But Syrett said she isn’t ready to support a ban, partly because tobacco is a legal product, and there are questions about how the city would enforce a downtown smoking prohibition.

“Right now, I’m not ready to jump completely on the bandwagon to endorse this,” she said.

Syrett said the council may want to let city voters have a say on a downtown outdoor smoking ban.

“If we put it to a public vote, I think there could be strong public support for this action,” she said.

If the city imposes smoking bans in city parks or downtown, they would be the latest in a series of anti-smoking regulations enacted at the state and local level in the past 15 years.

City ordinances, for example, already outlaw smoking in workplaces and outside the entrances of buildings throughout Eugene, including downtown.

Councilor George Poling, who gave up smoking in 1992, said his “sinuses shut down” when he breathes secondhand smoke.

“I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or a medical thing,” he said. “To me, (secondhand) smoke is more offensive than anything else.”

Yet Poling said he had mixed feelings about a ban. Smokers are aware of the health risks of smoking, he said.

“If we address this, we need to deal with it as a health issue, not as something to change people’s behavior.”

Councilor Mike Clark was the only councilor to speak against a ban.

He took exception to city officials, including Assistant City Manager Sarah Medary and Grube, who briefed the council on the matter, partly because they asserted that a ban could help create a “healthy downtown.”

Preventing smokers from lighting up in buildings may be justified because of the health damage caused by indoor second­hand smoke, Clark said.

But smoking outdoors doesn’t present the same kind of health problems, he said.

“When we talk about creating a smoke-free downtown, it’s not to create a healthy downtown,” Clark said. “It’s to stop some (nonsmokers) from being offended, and I don’t think that’s the job of the City Council.”

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