Mayor Toni Harp predicted that the city’s new outdoor smoking ban will benefit—not disproportionately penalize—black and Latino communities, in part by helping them bring down higher rates of heart disease.
She defended the ban at a press event Monday at City Hall commemorating World No Tobacco Day, and joined other local officials in explaining a multi-step plan to make New Haven a tobacco-free city.
Since last fall, the Harp administration has made tobacco cessation a main component of its public health agenda, with a three-pronged focus on raising awareness of the harms of smoking, helping smokers quit and preventing young people from starting up.
“There is no known safe level of exposure” to tobacco, Harp said at Monday’s event.
In mid-May the Board of Alders unanimously passed an ordinance outlawing tobacco products from government buildings, playgrounds, sports fields, school grounds and Lighthouse Park. The city can create and restrict smokers to specific spaces within the public areas.
Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. brought up concerns about an earlier broader version of the bill, which kicked smokers out of all public spaces and imposed a $100 fine. He worried the fines would disproportionately affect people of color.
In the current ordinance, smokers caught in non-smoking zones will be issued a warning ticket the first time, and afterwards a fine of up to $100.
Mayor Harp said she disagreed with Brackeen’s original critique that people of color would be negatively impacted by the ordinance.
“There’s something wrong with that reasoning,” Harp said, when asked her opinion. “If getting a ticket for smoking will get [blacks and Latinos] to stop” using tobacco, then it’s a strategy that helps those communities.
Ordinance co-sponsor Westville Alder Adam Marchand said the addition of the warning ticket—as opposed to an immediate fine—in the ordinance addressed Brackeen’s concerns. He said the city will speak with cops to make sure the ordinance is implemented in a way that does not target blacks and Latinos.
Parks department chief Becky Bombero said the city is in the process of getting signs to designate the beaches, parks and fields smoke-free.
Various local organizations are hosting programs to help people quit smoking. Click here for a list of the city’s smoking cessation programs.
E-cigarettes, which are sometimes marketed as smoking cessation aids, are included in the list of tobacco products banned in public spaces, Harp said. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro are pushing for more regulation of e-cigarettes, worried that e-cigarette companies are marketing their products to children who are not smokers.
The city’s new health director, Byron Kennedy, said the research supports those representatives’ takes on the industry. “The tobacco industry has to replace smokers they lose every year,” he said Monday. “There’s pressure to get new folks engaged in smoking.”
[Brackeen sent in this comment about this story: “My original concern was not an official amendment, but it was something that needed to be voiced on behalf of people in the CARE communities who may not be able to respond quickly from long term addictions, such as smoking.
Furthermore, after speaking with the cosponsors, they have incorporated all of my suggestions. I am wholeheartedly in support of the new newly passed ban.”]