Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Criticism, Seattle's Proposed Park Smoking Ban Gets A Rewrite

The freedom to smoke no longer includes parks in Vancouver, Wash.
Simen Svale Skogsrud
The freedom to smoke no longer includes parks in Vancouver, Wash.

After sharp criticism from advocates for the homeless, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, Seattle's plan to ban smoking in public parks has been softened to reflect concerns it would unfairly target the homeless and minorities.

Under the new proposal from the Seattle Parks Department, a violator will get a warning for lighting up instead of a $27 fine. Two or more warnings could lead to an arrest. Using e-cigarettes and vape pens would still be allowed.

At a protest rally in Westlake Park, organizations including the NAACP and the ACLU said the changes don’t go far enough and that the park smoking ban remains a bad idea.

“The ACLU doesn’t believe that the city should go around threatening poor people with the possibility of getting arrested simply for smoking in public. That’s not what Seattle should be doing,” says Doug Honig, the organization’s spokesman.

To address these concerns, the new proposal creates a committee to monitor how the ban would impact the homeless and people of color.

“We ought to be nimble enough to identify disparities in enforcement right away and make changes to our approach,” says Christopher Williams, the Deputy Superintendent for Seattle Parks.

If the Parks Commission approves the plan it will make a recommendation to the Superintendent, Jesus Aguirre. Aguirre will issue a final decision on banning smoking in parks by the end of this week.

If the ban is approved, Seattle would join hundreds of other cities and jurisdictions that prohibit smoking in parks. Many of these places have stiff fines for people who break the rules. If you are caught smoking in a New York City park you face a $50 fine. In Boston the ticket is $250 and in Boulder it's $1,000.


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.