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City Council should reject attempts to further restrict Ped Mall smoking

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 17, 2009 7:21 AM

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Feel free to smoke up downtown — as long as it doesn’t conflict with businesses’ profit margins.

If local business owners get their way, those could be the unfortunate parameters.
In an effort to stifle cigarette smoking downtown, business owners have asked the Iowa City City Council to prohibit smoking on the Pedestrian Mall from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Councilors have agreed to consider the suggestion at a January work session.

“We’ll give it a further look,” Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey told The Daily Iowan. “It’s going to be interesting to see how people approach this.”

This superficial pitch by store owners should be deeply disturbing to anyone concerned with the inherent freedoms of citizens. In addition, the ostensible effort to snuff out smoking masks businesses’ true intention: forcing panhandlers away from downtown in an attempt to bolster local businesses’ revenue.

Councilor Connie Champion acknowledged that even if the ban passes, people are still going to smoke on the Pedestrian Mall.

In addition, Catherine Champion, Connie Champion’s daughter, told the DI the real problem downtown is the crowd that hangs outside of stores, rather than smoking. Catherine Champion owns two businesses downtown, one of which is on the Ped Mall.

“I support the idea of it, but I’m not sure I support the practicality of it,” Connie Champion told the Editorial Board.

And lack of practicality truly is the case. The Ped Mall — which is already smoke-free from Linn Street to the fountain outside the Sheraton, 210 S. Dubuque St. — is a public setting. Although we do not endorse the use of tobacco, relinquishing citizens’ right to choose whether to smoke would be a governmental overstep. Officials’ efforts to negate potentially unsavory lifestyle choices, such as smoking and drinking, hug an interstitial line between strict and draconian. As abettors of freedom, we reject this misguided proposal.

We respect and understand business owners’ interest in banning smoking; we just don’t support it. We reject their attempts to put their businesses’ profit margin over citizens’ rights.

There’s no doubt whether loiterers are unattractive to the business community and negatively affect their stores’ bottom lines. And forcing smokers off the Ped Mall during business hours would force some panhandlers away from storefronts and potentially increase revenue for restaurants and shops.

But what sort of financial benefit will realistically occur if smoking is banned? Not enough to deny rights to smokers and panhandlers alike.

In addition, the actual time frame for when people may smoke could be murky.

“It’s going to really confuse people,” Connie Champion said about a potential smoking ban.

Merits of action on each aside, panhandling and smoking should be completely separate issues. If the council supports a Ped Mall smoking ban, it should not base its argument rather than panhandling and marketplace concerns. We hope councilors will disregard the smoking-ban proposal and instead focus their efforts on more acute topics.


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