In a close vote Monday night, the Burlington City Council banned outdoor smoking in downtown areas between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The ban exempts outdoor cafes and private alleys from the no-smoke zone, which is bounded by Winooski Avenue and by Pearl, King and Pine streets.
Public health concerns over secondhand smoke drove the 8-6 vote of support for the new law. Questions about enforcement and the “pay-to-play” privilege at cafes stoked opposition.
“It’s not perfect; it’s a compromise,” said Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, a key sponsor of the resolution. “It’s reasonable to expect that we’ll need to take another look at it.
“But in a year or two, smoking is still not going to be healthy.”
Republican Ward-7 Councilors Vince Dober and Paul Decelles voted against the measure, as did Democrats Dave Hartnett, Ward 4; Bram Kranichfeld, Ward 2; Republican Kurt Wright, Ward 4; and Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Ward 3.
Although he doesn’t vote in council resolutions, Mayor Bob Kiss criticized the resolution as “bad public policy” because, he said, it wouldn’t address citywide health issues and because it attempts to place too much of the downtown off-bounds to tobacco-puffers.
Twice in the last year, accompanied by long and lively debate, the council has sent versions of the proposed ban back to the Ordinance Committee for refinement. The current version departs from earlier drafts in that it does not allow any portion of City Hall Park to be exempted from the ban.
Citing tobacco smoke as a citywide problem — but not, perhaps as large a problem as the exhaust from idling cars and truck engines — Decelles challenged the council to place the proposed law on the March ballot. His proposal failed.
Public comment tilted in favor of the resolution, with owners of downtown businesses weighing in.
Fred Palatino, the owner of Garcia Tobacco Shop on Church Street, was an exception.
Fifty percent of his sales typically are to Canadian tourists, Palatino said.
He also voiced concern over downtown workers who step outside for a smoke.
“Here we are in the middle of winter and there are no outdoor cafes” where smoking will be legal, he said. “You’re depriving these people of smoking areas that are safe and free.”
Non-smoker Greg Nixon seconded the notion: “I find smoking repulsive, but I find it more repulsive that only rich tourists will be able to smoke here.”
Councilor David Berezniak, D-Ward 2, said his own endorsement of the smoking ban stemmed in part from having watched the suffering of cancer victims.
“It sends the message, ‘There’s something wrong with smoking if I can’t do it downtown,’” he said.
Independent Ward-1 Councilor Sharon Bushor, who co-sponsored the resolution with Shannon, said its division of rules between “day people” and “night people” doesn’t pretend to be the perfect solution.
“But I do think this brings us to the next place we need to be,” Bushor said.