Editorial: Reject smoking ban in state parks

Published Dec 20, 2013 at 12:01AM

Oregon proposes to ban smoking in state parks, with the goal of addressing “wellness issues,” reducing forest fires and controlling litter.

Although it’s become fashionable for government to ban unhealthy activities — which clearly smoking is — we think this move goes too far.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department says the move is in service to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s August 2012 executive order to restrict tobacco use in state parks and recreation areas.

While the governor cited wellness and forest fires, the concern with litter comes from the parks department. Spokesman Chris Havel said the move would help control “plastic pollution” because people drop cigarette butts, which don’t decompose, according to an Associated Press report.

The proposal would affect 12 percent to 18 percent of park visitors, or 1.3 million people, according to parks department estimates. It would ban smoking from “trails, developed day use areas, waysides, park roadways and common areas of campgrounds.” Smoking would still be permitted in “personal vehicles and camping units; designated campsites in developed overnight camping areas” and where approved for American Indian ceremonies, the department says. Officials expect a “high level of compliance,” with fines likely to be $60 to $110.

The concern about wellness is appropriate for indoor spaces where second-hand smoke endangers others. In the great outdoors, that risk is small and certainly doesn’t justify this intrusion into a person’s right to a legal activity.

As for the risk of forest fires, we’re talking about parks and trails, not wilderness areas. A more limited ban could address this concern if evidence can be offered that it’s a significant problem.

Litter comes from various sources; must we ban food and drink because containers don’t always land in the proper trash or recycling can? Again, a weak argument.

You’ll be able to express your opinion to the parks department when it holds a hearing at the Bend Park & Recreation District office in Bend at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14.

Sending a wellness message has value, but government shouldn’t get to make your decisions, whether it’s smoking, high-fat ice cream or oversized soda bottles.