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Manteca snuffs out smoking ban

Concerns for individual rights trump ‘societal beliefs’

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Manteca snuffs out smoking ban

Richard Montoya plays with grandson Ralph at Library Park. It is still illegal to smoke within 25 feet of playground equipment in Manteca parks.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo/

POSTED August 21, 2013 2:06 a.m.

Manteca’s parks — except within 25 feet of playground equipment — are still legal places for smokers to puff away.

The Manteca City Council Tuesday didn’t as much side with smokers as they did the rights of individuals against what Councilman Vince Hernandez  termed “societal beliefs” in voting down a measure that had the potential to put  smokers in jail if they were caught lighting up in most parks. The only exceptions to the proposed ordinance were the Big League Dreams sports complex and the golf course. While both are owned by the city they are operated by private concerns. Big League Dreams already bans smoking on the premises.

Smoking will continue to be illegal within 25 feet of park playground equipment under state law.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead, who along with John Harris was on the losing end of a 2-3 vote to adopt the outright ban, noted the current state law isn’t even being enforced. She indicated on various trips with her grandkids to use park playgrounds she comes across cigarette butts in and around the children’s equipment all of the time.

 “Where does it stop?” Hernandez asked rhetorically. He noted he wouldn’t be surprised if the city was asked to regulate cigarette smoke drifting into a neighbor’s yard.

Hernandez noted he is a non-smoker though he occasionally has a cigar.

Police Chief Nick Obligacion had proposed the ordinance following up on direction from the City Council to work to make parks more inviting and safer for use by the general public. It was the outgrowth of concerns expressed by residents and observations.

The chief noted in support documentation that California spends $5.6 billion a year on direct and indirect costs on smoking-related illnesses. He also noted second-hand smoke is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths a year. He added 600 communities nationwide have similar bans including 151 California cities.

Mayor Willie Weatherford said he seriously doubted many if any of those cities were located away from the coast or Southern California.

The mayor also wasn’t buying the proposition it was the city’s role to regulate smoking beyond what the state already does.

“We are not our brother’s keeper,” Weatherford said.

He drew chuckles from the audience when he wondered out loud if having Manteca outlaw the consumption of Twinkies was next.

He added that there would be costs associated with the proposal including the placement of signs as well as police manpower.

Hernandez added that during the past two weeks he has been at six different parks while being involved with youth sports. He said he observed few smokers. And those who did smoke were careful to move away from others.

Moorhead responded by noting most park smokers simply toss their cigarette butts to the ground. She said those butts are much more toxic as young children could pick them up.

She did say she was open to designating an area in parks for smokers to use. Moorhead is  not a smoker.

Steve DeBrum, a former smoker and an occasional cigar user, noted there is already a smoking ban near playground equipment He was concerned that the city would be issuing citations and possibly push for jail time in some cases to enforce a more blanket ban.

He also decried the move as an undermining individual rights.

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