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Will Burlington's New Smoking Ban Be Enforced? Don't Butt on It

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The outdoor smoking ban enacted by the Burlington City Council this week comes with hefty fines for those caught lighting up in city parks and on beaches: $50 to $200 per offense.

But will police really enforce the prohibition? After all, this is Burlington — a town where open pot smoking has been tolerated every April at UVM's annual 420 Festival.

"Much like idling, education and peer/citizen reminders will be the primary tool in any smoking ordinance enforcement," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling tells Blurt. "Actual tickets will, generally, be a last resort."

City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-5), who chairs the Ordinance Committee that crafted the smoking ban, also foresees no big crackdown.

"Have you ever known anyone to be ticketed for smoking in a no smoking area?" Shannon says. "I haven't."

Instead, Shannon envisions enforcement playing out like this: "Someone will light up, and someone else will notice and say, 'Excuse me. You might not know, but this is actually a no smoking area.' And the cigarette will be promptly extinguished," Shannon says.

One place smokers definitely won't get busted: Church Street. The Marketplace was spared from the outdoor smoking ban, in part because several merchants warned that it would hurt their already struggling businesses.

The smoking ban that passed the Burlington City Council 11-2 on Monday night was the brainchild of City Councilor Karen Paul (I-6), who initially proposed to ban smoking on the waterfront bike path and later expanded the proposal to include all city parks and the Church Street Marketplace.

Burlington banned indoor smoking in 2004 and now joins a small but growing number of cities expanding such prohibitions to outdoor gathering places. Paul calls the parks and beaches ban "a great first step" and says the council could look to broaden the ban in the future.

"Perhaps doing something where outdoor eating establishments can allow smoking within their defined area," Paul says.

Paul says the ordinance takes effect immediately, and "No Smoking" signs will begin going up in designated outdoor nonsmoking areas.

But don't necessarily expect ticket-writing cops to follow them. Expect, instead, to get educated.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen

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