Editorial: No Smoking, Please

Claremont Mulls a Smoking Ban

Decades ago, an ad campaign invited readers to “Come to Marlboro Country.” The slogan was printed over a photograph of a cowboy leaning against a weathered barn, enjoying a smoke after busting broncs, fixing fences or some such manly pursuit.

Earlier, smoking enjoyed even more social approval. “More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette,’’ one famous, now infamous, campaign proclaimed. After the New York Giants won the 1933 World Series, an ad declared that “It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series. … 21 of 23 World Champion Giants Smoke Camels.”

These days the Marlboro Man would be sneaking a smoke behind the barn, and doing so strongly against the advice of his doctor, who would also urge him to cut down on red meat and eat more fruits and vegetables. And, of course, use sun screen.

While it’s good that smoking has declined both in practice and esteem, the role of government in restricting smoking has limits. Those were examined in Claremont last week, when the City Council rejected an outright smoking ban in several city parks. The ban would have prohibited smoking entirely in the parks and parking lots — even in private vehicles. “I think it is overkill,’’ said councilor Vic Bergeron, who, given the surgeon general’s warning about smoking, had an interesting choice of words.

Several who objected to the ban pointed to the problems it might cause, from the potential for confrontation between smokers and nonsmokers to difficulties for parents who’d have to leave with their children when a parent needed a smoke. The ban’s opponents said it would be better to designate smoking areas.

That’s a sensible approach, since smoking continues to be legal and addictive, and, in an irony that cannot be denied, tobacco sales contribute to public coffers through taxes. That’s not to say that smokers should be anything but courteous about their habit — there is much about cigarette butts littering a natural area that offends, and many non-smokers are highly sensitive to second-hand smoke. One Claremont resident complained about cigarette smoke drifting onto tennis courts; to adapt a legal saying, the right to smoke ends where the other person’s nose begins.

There’s another reason for Claremont to take a different approach. Just last week Pelham, N.H., rescinded a smoking ban in town parks after a staff attorney from the New Hampshire Municipal Association told town officials that New Hampshire state law forbids smoking only in indoor public places. The association attorney’s view is that local communities cannot go further.

For now, the best course seems to be education and reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of smokers and non-smokers. Trends favor the latter — in the words of another famous tobacco campaign, we’ve come a long way.