Smoking letter (Corrected Version - Please Disregard Previous Copy)

I was a bit hasty in hitting send on that letter. No sooner had I done so than I noticed a number of grammatical and other problems with it. Here is a revised and hopefully somewhat improved version.

      <<< Starchild >>>

P.S. To the Editor - If there is a problem with printing a list of bullet points as part of a letter to the editor, please feel free to print the points in paragraph form separated by semicolons, although I believe they work best as a list.

Editor,

  Learning that the Supervisors have banned smoking in parks was bad
enough, but after reading the front-page story on the new ban
(Chronicle, 1/26/05) I have a number of concerns about that article
itself:

-the use of the mild and positive-sounding word "comprehensive" to
describe the ban (how about "strict," "harsh," "draconian,"
"far-reaching," or "extreme?")
-the printing of questionable statistics supplied by the Supervisor who
introduced the legislation without any sources being cited or countervailing
evidence offered
-the pun in the lead of the story at the expense of smokers ("kicking your
butts") which not only connotes an image of violence, but conveys the
false impression that this is about the littering of cigarette butts,
when in fact such littering is already illegal
-the alleged reasons for the golf course exemption are taken at face
value; no question is raised as to whether this was simply a crass
political compromise arising out of a willingness to create a double
standard rather than risk the opposition of well-heeled interests
-only Supervisors who could cite sympathy-inducing personal reasons for
their supporting votes (asthma, a dead relative, following in a
relative's footsteps) are quoted; what about the other five who voted for the ban
but presumably lack such rationales?
-the misleading quote from the head of the Public Health Dept. in
support of the measure (the question is *not* whether people are
"exposed" to smoke, but whether they are exposed to a degree
that is significantly harmful)

  Also notable is what was left out of the article:

-any mention of the dubious Constitutionality of the measure (if this
is legal, what *can't* government tell us to do?)
-any estimates of how much it will cost the city to put up those new
signs
-any discussion of whether this will take precedence over fixing
potholes and cracked streets, solving murders, getting the BART
restrooms open and working again, etc.
-any analysis of the larger picture of how tobacco is slowly becoming
one more banned substance in the government's "war on drugs"
-any quotes from civil libertarians opposed in principle to the ban
(not just smokers or people claiming it's "elitist")
-any quotes from health experts opposed to the ban
-any discussion of how this will affect marijuana users
-any informed speculation that imposing heavy new fines for something
that many people don't even think should be illegal ($100 for a first
offense!) might simply be another way to force ordinary San Franciscans
to foot the bill for government overspending

  Each of these concerns might be relatively insignificant alone, but
taken together I believe they amount to a bias in the story (hopefully
unintentional). I urge you to seek commentary from the Libertarian Party
when you run further stories on this topic as a way of ensuring they are
more balanced. I say "when" rather than "if," because it's a virtual
certainty that this is going to continue to be controversial for a long
time to come, just as the elder Alioto's smoking ban still is. Those
responsible for this ill-considered move have done little to solve any
real problem, but they have created a new source of bad blood between
different groups of San Francisco residents, just as Rec & Park did in their
attempt to crack down on leash-free dogs. Once again, city officials are
pitting us against each other as they pick our pockets.

Sincerely,

Starchild
3531 16th Street,
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 621-7932

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/01/26/MNG12B0HH71.DTL
S.F. board votes to ban smoking in city's parks
    Only golf courses would be exempt

Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writer
SF Chronicle
Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Smokers, take heed: A new law is kicking your butts out of San
Francisco parks and open spaces.

    The Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday to outlaw smoking
outdoors in all recreational areas managed by the city except for
golf courses. That includes parks, squares, gardens and playing
fields but not federal lands such as the Presidio or Ocean Beach.

    The ordinance wouldn't be the only one of its kind in the state --
similar ones exist in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and a dozen other
places -- but it would be the most comprehensive.

    "Secondhand smoke outdoors is just as dangerous (as indoors)," said
Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who said she drafted the law out of
concern for the environment and children.

    She is following in the footsteps of her aunt, former Supervisor
Angela Alioto, who in 1993 wrote the ordinance prohibiting smoking in
workplaces, restaurants and public arenas in San Francisco.

    "Like other young parents, I have had the wonderful experience of a
child picking up a cigarette butt off the lawn and popping it in
their mouth," she said, also noting that discarded butts make up 1
out of every 4 pieces of litter in the city, and take up to a dozen
years to degrade.

    The law now goes to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it.
The ordinance, to be enforced by police and employees, would not go
into effect until July 1 to give the city time to erect "no smoking"
signs. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi unsuccessfully tried to get golf
courses covered by the ordinance, saying it should apply to all city
property. They had been exempted for several reasons, including the
possibility that the ordinance could bite into the city's revenue
stream, and that discarded cigarette butts aren't a big problem on
golf courses.

    But, said Mirkarimi, "It has this undertone of elitism."

    He voted against the law, along with board President Aaron Peskin
and Supervisor Jake McGoldrick.

    McGoldrick, who represents the Richmond District, was particularly
worried about how the law might disproportionately affect some
immigrant communities, including Chinese Mah Jong players at
Portsmouth Square who enjoy a cigarette with their game.

    But Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who lost his mother to a smoking-related
illness, said he welcomed the measure, as did Supervisor Tom Ammiano,
who is asthmatic.

    "I wish, as a child, there had been that incentive, if she was at a
playground with me or a park with me, that she had the incentive not
to smoke, " Dufty said.

    But the law wasn't as welcome for some San Francisco residents.

    At Portsmouth Square park in the heart of Chinatown, cigarette butts
littered the ground. The Chinese speakers on Tuesday's drizzly
afternoon declined to be interviewed, but a security guard puffing on
a cigarette said he was bothered by the idea of the fines -- $100 for
the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for subsequent
infractions.

    "That's ridiculous, that is, man,'' he said, declining to give his
name because he didn't want to get in trouble with his boss. "They
need to find something else to stop people from doing.''

    The sentiment was echoed elsewhere.

    "This is outside, man,'' said Damani Blankenship, puffing on a
Newport in Hallidie Plaza at the foot of Powell Street. "I think this
new law is terrible. This isn't a bar or a small room. This is
outdoors. Lots of fresh air out here. How can this be a problem?''

    A smoker who identified himself only as Jim clutched a pack of
Marlboros as he walked through the plaza, on his way to the BART
station. He did not light up, but that was because there was no time
to finish a new cigarette before entering the station, where smoking
is illegal.

    "I pay my taxes,'' he said. "I work hard. What I do outdoors is my
business. I'm not hurting anyone.''

    On the other hand, Dr. Mitch Katz, who runs the city's Department of
Public Health, was thrilled with the vote.

    "People are under the misconception that if they are outside, they
are not being exposed," he said. "If you can smell the smoke, your
body is inhaling the toxic chemicals in the smoke."

    Katz said he hopes the law "will result in fewer smokers and fewer
people being exposed to smoke."

    Staff writers Charlie Goodyear and Steve Rubenstein contributed to
this report.E-mail Suzanne Herel at sherel@....

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Bravo, Starchild! Well said!