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Rocky targets public smoking

He wants to ban it from church plaza and city sidewalks

Published: Sunday, Oct. 27 2002 12:00 a.m. MDT

Things aren't looking good for Salt Lake City smokers.

Mayor Rocky Anderson is on the warpath, and cigarettes are in the cross hairs.

Anderson plans to ban smoking from the Main Street Plaza of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he develops plaza restrictions in the coming weeks.

And while that ban is designed to appease the plaza's owners — the LDS Church — Anderson looks to spread anti-smoking laws to other city locales, including public sidewalks.

For the church, smoking is a violation of religious commandments to keep the body pure. For Anderson it's also about purity — not for religious reasons but for the sake of good health.

"I know that people who are addicted to smoking are going to want to find public places to smoke, but they should also understand that others have the right to be free from breathing, smelling secondhand smoke," Anderson said.

Anderson's fight is personal.

It's hard for him to remember how long he was a smoker. Was it 15 or 20 years? Now a self-described "reformed ex-smoker," Anderson hates tobacco.

The mayor kicked the habit shortly after watching both his parents die of smoking-related emphysema. He also had a close friend die of the same disease. "Anybody is crazy to breathe these lethal poisons into their lungs," he said.

Anderson wants to outlaw smoking on the city's public sidewalks. Smokers could also lose privileges in city parks and other public places. State law already bans smoking within 25 feet of all buildings.

If Anderson's wishes become law, Salt Lake City may become the first in the nation to prohibit smoking on sidewalks.

Joe Cherner, president of Smokefree Educational Services Inc., is a smoking-laws watchdog and distributes regular e-mails to the press concerning smoking-related laws across the United States.

Many cities have recently developed smoke-free parks and beaches, but Cherner knows of nowhere that has gone after sidewalks.

Such a law would be difficult to enforce because smokers might meander on and off a sidewalk, and the exact parameters of a sidewalk might be difficult to define, especially in a downtown setting, Cherner said.

Still, Anderson maintains the ban is possible, and acting city attorney Steven Allred agrees.

"I have not found anything that would indicate that we currently have smoking restrictions on sidewalks or in parks, but I wouldn't want that to be read to the fact that we could not impose those kinds of restrictions in the future," he said.

The only anti-smoking law currently on Salt Lake City's books? It's illegal to smoke and dance — at the same time — in any registered dance hall, Allred said. Go figure.

Ray Domkus, from the pro-smoking group Forces California, said he is tired of smokers' rights being trampled.

While Domkus admits it is constitutional for a city to ban smoking on any public property, he maintains it is unethical.

"It's not a fair thing to do from a moral perspective," he said.

Domkus predicted that any sidewalk smoking ban would be ignored.

Back on Main Street Plaza, the LDS Church might not need the mayor's consent to ban smoking.

Still under debate is whether a ruling from a three-judge panel for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals allows the church to ban smoking. Salt Lake attorney Lynn Pace argues that the ruling outlaws free-speech restrictions only. Things such as skateboarding, in-line skating and smoking can still be banned, Pace said.

Stephen Clark, an attorney who represented the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit challenging speech and conduct restrictions on the plaza, said he isn't concerned with smoking restrictions.

"The ACLU and its clients did not file this lawsuit against smoking or sunbathing," he said. "We filed this lawsuit based on freedom of expression and freedom of speech."

To focus on smoking "trivializes the issues that are at stake here," Clark said.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com

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