The city dropped its plan to fine smokers in parks, but is replacing it with something more painful.
Bad news, Seattle smokers. The city has decided not to fine you $27 if they catch you puffing away on a cigarette in a city park.
Why is this bad news? Because they’re replacing the fines with something more painful: Lectures.
By now everyone’s probably heard that Seattle will ban smoking in its parks. This strikes me as no big deal either way. There’s no epidemic of smokers causing a cloudy health hazard in the parks. But likewise smokers are used to being asked to move along. If parks are now off-limits, everyone will adapt just fine.
But reader T.F. alerted me to a part of the debate that showcases, again, a “creepiness to the new Seattle,” as he put it. Like me, T.F. doesn’t smoke but has lived here long enough to recall when we were more of a live-and-let-live kind of town. Not in a flamboyant way, of course. But in that staid Scandinavian sensibility of “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.”
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Now instead of that we have as official city policy something called “de-normalization.”
“Why a smoking ban?” asks a memo from Seattle Parks and Recreation. “It is about de-normalizing tobacco use, especially for young people.”
De-normalization, as one researcher described it, is the use of rules to put societal pressure on “those who fail to aspire to a specific preferred image of the future self.”
With outdoor smoking, the argument is no longer that the smoke physically harms bystanders. It’s that seeing people smoke is corrupting. De-normalizing it means shunning smoking from public view.
The smokers themselves also might benefit if it’s made clearer that their behavior is no longer socially acceptable.
So the plan to levy $27 fines was dropped because the fines would land too heavily on the poor. Instead, the ban now will be an educational opportunity — or as the city actually called it in its official documents, “an intervention.”
Here’s how an intervention might go, according to the city, when a park ranger sees a person smoking:
“You might not be aware, but all Seattle parks are now smoke-free,” the ranger says. “So I’m going to have to ask you to put your cigarette out and dispose of it safely in the trash can.”
(Our park rangers talk like Ranger Rick, I guess.)
Then, producing a card printed with anti-tobacco tips and stop-smoking hotline numbers, the ranger goes on:
“If you are interested, we have a resource card with information about the policy, and resources for help in quitting tobacco. There are a lot of free resources available.”
The only thing left off this happy morality play is when the smoker flips the smoldering butt at the ranger. Or maybe flips something else.
Seriously, Seattle: Could we be any more annoying? (Don’t answer that: I’m sure we’re hard at work on it.) If we want to ban smoking in parks, can we just do it and spare the better-living advice?
At Denny Park on Friday, I asked some smokers what they thought of all this. A gaggle of construction workers on lunch break wasn’t fazed.
“We can all smoke on the job,” one pointed out.
A man with a British accent, who gave his name only as Gerald, said he smokes at the park because it’s peaceful and not as crowded as the rest of South Lake Union.
“I could move out onto the sidewalk, if that’s what they’d prefer,” he said.
OK. What if they suggested that per a new policy of de-normalization, you should stop smoking altogether. And they offered you a card with tips.
He laughed: “I would probably tell them to piss off.”
Hmm. Gerald and these construction workers seem to be balking at aspiring to a specific preferred image of the future self. More intervention is clearly going to be needed.