Anti-smoking signs OK’d amid concern of government overreach

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Councilwoman Del Peppers initiative to outfit city playgrounds, parks and bus shelters with signs discouraging smoking passed 5 to 2, but not without an eruptive debate about government overreach.

On the same day New York implemented a ban on smoking in many of the citys open-air, public spaces, the council gave the go ahead to cut back on second-hand smoke. Virginia law prohibits the city from banning smoking in such areas, but the officials are doing what they can to remind smokers that they cause health issues for those around them, especially children, Pepper said.

We heard several folks asking if the resolution were passed, would it prohibit smoking in these places, Pepper said. But prohibiting is not something we are authorized by the city to do, so we are going to gently thank people for not smoking in these areas.

The signs will be small and discrete, Pepper said. The first phase of the plan includes placing them at each of the citys 35 playgrounds.

But Councilman Frank Fannon and Councilwoman Alicia Hughes said the city is going too far. Smoking is legal in public, and discouraging it infringes on individual liberty, they argued.

What this comes down to is peoples liberty in a free society, Fannon said. If people want to smoke they should be able to smoke and I have a concern about the city council moving these signs forward against a habit that is legal.

No residents have complained to Fannon about smoking at playgrounds, parks or bus shelters, he said, worried that the government was making an issue of something thats not a problem right now.

But most council members regard the issue as a public health matter, not Big Brother, as Vice Mayor Kerry Donley called it. The city encourages citizens to do things all the time, he said, not unlike Alexandrias stance on mentoring children, donating blood and recycling.    

Were trying to promote positive behavior, not punish negative behavior, Donley said.

Residents will start seeing the signs at playgrounds this summer, officials said.

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