Whether or not to allow smoking in public parks might seem like an easy issue to decide, but it is not.
The issue is currently being wrestled with in the city of New Holstein. Other municipalities have already tackled it one way or another, and others likely will take their turn somewhere down the road.
To some people, the answer seems easy. It is known that smoking is bad for a person’s health as is secondhand smoke. Parks are often filled with children, some of whom suffer from asthma. Should those children and adult nonsmokers be subject to smoke while trying to enjoy outdoor activities?
To other people, however, the reverse viewpoint seems equally easy. Tobacco is still a legal product, and smoking is a legal activity for people of legal age to do. Parks are public property, owned and paid for as much by the smoking public as they are the nonsmoking public.
The suggested New Holstein ordinance also allows an exception for the annual New Holstein Firemen’s Picnic as it would allow smoking in Civic Park during the run of the picnic. That has raised questions from some citizens who are asking if even that exception should be allowed. The picnic certainly draws children to the park. And if smoking is allowed for the Firemen’s Picnic, why not for the family reunion which rents out park facilities for their event? Or in all these instances should there be designated smoking areas away from where children might be likely to congregate?
Even deeper discussions revolve around this smoking question. Smoking already has been banned in public places including privately owned taverns and restaurants. If it is banned in parks, what is next—people’s homes? How far can government reach, how far will it, and how far should it to put restrictions on the use of a product which is still legal? And what is the next product to be targeted for elimination? It is a known fact that childhood obesity is an issue in this country, yet society continues to allow unhealthy snacks to be produced and consumed by children and adults alike. Is it time for government to step in and ban the consumption of such snacks for the good of society?
People might not have expected to have to look so deep when the seemingly simple question of whether or not to allow smoking in parks was raised, but there is more to the question than meets the eye. The New Holstein Common Council is planning to consider the issue again at its April 18 meeting. Anyone with input on the issue is encouraged to contact their alderman ahead of the meeting.
—Mark Sherry