The Santa Cruz, California, City Council is waiving its ban on smoking in public parks on September 29 so that marijuana can be smoked in San Lorenzo Park.
As the San Jose Mercury-News notes, “It’s a story that virtually begs for the ‘only-in-Santa-Cruz’ eye-roll treatment – another item in a wave of wackiness over the years that has painted the beach town, fairly or not, as nuttier than a bowl of granola.”
Defenders of exempting pot-smoking from the ban say that a tent will be set up in the park that will ensure that “smoke is ventilated up and away from the crowd.”
But wind and open space ensure that any kind of smoke, including tobacco, will dissipate quickly from a public park.
While bans on cigarette smoking in small enclosed spaces, such as in municipal buses and workplaces, may reduce respiratory problems for those who are sensitive to second-hand smoke, there is no evidence that banning smoking in wide open spaces like public parks promotes public health.
Indeed, studies have found that bans on smoking in public places can inadvertently harm public health. That is because such bans force smokers to stay in their own homes if they wish to smoke, allowing smoke to accumulate in an enclosed space. That increases exposure to second-hand smoke by the family members and children of smokers.
Moreover, if smokers remain at home in order to smoke, rather than visiting public parks, that reduces the amount of outdoor exercise that smokers and their children engage in, resulting in increased obesity and mortality rates. Outdoor exercise is correlated with good health. Northern cities have higher overall cancer rates than sunbelt cities where outdoor exercise is more enjoyable.