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Was the City Council right to increase smoking fines to $50?

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 03, 2010 7:30 AM

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YES

Attention smokers: You might want to find a cheaper hobby.

The City Council recently increased the penalty for smoking in a prohibited area — including the Pedestrian Mall — to a simple misdemeanor with a $50 fine.

While some may look at this newly modified ban as unfair and asinine, I embrace the stricter changes. In addition, I remain unconvinced that $50 is asking too much from those willingly to break the law.

Several factors have reaffirmed my decision to support the City Council. First, it’s pretty simple: For those careless enough to disobey the law, they should expect to pay the consequences. Laws are enforced for a reason. If people aren’t going to take them seriously, then harsher penalties need to be enacted.

Obviously, mere warnings weren’t doing the trick. So naturally, the city has done the only thing possible to guarantee those who disobey the law refrain from doing so.

I’m sure most smokers would argue that if they can no longer light up outside, where are they expected to go? And some argue the smoke from these cancer sticks invade the air for no more than a matter of minutes.

However, those susceptible to secondhand smoke should be able to go outside and not be bombarded with countless people’s cigarette smoke at any given moment. If people want to smoke, they need to do so in an area where others aren’t affected.

So while I’m sure the increased fine will anger our smoking population, I welcome increased penalties to diminish the number of careless smokers. In reality, 50 bucks is a small price to pay.

— by Taylor Casey

NO

If I had my way, smoking bans would be loosened, if not eradicated. With a few exceptions — restaurants, schools, playgrounds — I regard them as unnecessary trampling of personal rights.

Expansive smoking prohibitions are more benign manifestations of majority tyranny than, say, anti-gay marriage laws. But they still curtail the rights of a maligned minority.

Whether lawmakers should eschew smoking restrictions isn’t the specific issue at hand, however. City councilors have instituted a penalty hike, and recalcitrant smokers now have to fork over an extra $50 if caught in a barred area.

So does the punishment fit the crime? I don’t think so.

Despite my general aversion to smoking bans, the question isn’t one of endorsing lawbreaking or enforcing laws. While it’s easy to construct this simplistic dichotomy, it’s a false one. In the real world, different crimes require different punishments and levels of enforcement.

Murder and robbery are more serious crimes than underage drinking and smoking, so police officers expend more energy investigating them. Criminalizing behavior doesn’t necessitate strident enforcement.

The real question, then, is one of degree — is smoking on the Pedestrian Mall egregious enough to warrant a $50 fine and a simple misdemeanor charge? I don’t think so.

I wouldn’t necessarily object to a small fine increase to ensure compliance. Openly flouted laws are ineffective laws, after all. But $50 — and a simple misdemeanor charge — is too hefty. Police officers have much better things to do than crack down on stubborn smokers. And those who are caught taking a few illegal whiffs should be asked to put it out, not hand over $50.

Illegal or not, such a pedestrian act doesn’t justify that kind of penalty.

— by Shawn Gude


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