Law & Principles
Trent England | December 9, 2015
Oklahoma City Council Takes Up Smoking
Smoking is unhealthy. Everybody knows that. Yet a supposed anti-smoking measure advanced yesterday by the City Council of Oklahoma City could increase exposure of children and others to secondhand smoke. The proposal also threatens to compromise the relationship of law enforcement with the community, showing that Oklahoma City’s City Council has failed to learn the lessons of troubled communities like Ferguson, Missouri.
The Oklahoma City proposal would ban smoking in most, but not all, city-owned outdoor areas. It would not apply to streets, alleys, sidewalks, or any of the five golf courses owned by the City. It would, however, apply to all city parks and trails.
Research on secondhand smoke shows that smoking indoors is far more dangerous than smoking outdoors. That fact alone should give the Council pause. Do they really want to send the message to parents that it is better to smoke in the car on the way to and from the park?
Scientists at Stanford University have studied secondhand smoke outdoors. Their findings are common sense and should guide the Council in making policy. Risks from secondhand smoke outdoors are very low as long as the smoker is a few feet away. At six feet, toxins from smoke are generally undetectable (obviously, wind is a significant factor).
All this suggests the Council should focus on places people congregate—areas like bus stops, playgrounds, or picnic shelters. The research does not support a policy of punishing residents for smoking outdoors away from others. And if the effect of the policy is to push smokers back indoors or onto sidewalks where people congregate, this would have a negative effect on health.
Finally, the reason for concern about this proposal goes beyond even public health. The average smoker is a male in his 20s or 30s, often a racial minority. Does the Council really want to turn the Oklahoma City Police into a public morals squad to confront and write $100 citations to young men who happen to be smoking and happen to walk through a city park? (It’s worth remembering, a dispute over illegal cigarettes initiated the events leading to the death of Eric Garner.)
Creating new, broad categories of illegal behavior, new fines, and new reasons for negative interactions between the police and the community is the very opposite of the smart-on-crime approach recently embraced by many local business and political leaders.
Oklahoma’s smoking rate recently dropped to an all-time low. The Oklahoma City Council should celebrate that fact and reconsider how best to continue that trend without causing harmful unintended consequences.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.