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City smoking ban extended to parks and libraries

Who knew they weren’t already, right?

Houston public parks, golf courses and pools will be smoke-free zones come September, marking one of the most sweeping tobacco bans at city facilities.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner announced the new policy at a City Council Quality of Life Committee meeting Wednesday, following an announcement by Library Director Rhea Lawson that the ban on smoking inside libraries will expand to the property outside.

The new policies will affect the more than 365 developed parks facilities, which include golf courses and pools, and 42 libraries across the city.

Both department heads said the expanded bans are driven by public health and concerns.

“It’s a welcome family-friendly environment, it’s a safer park experience and it gives us a cleaner facility,” Turner said.

The parks ban mirrors policies in at least 36 other Texas cities and seven of the largest U.S. metros.

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A city ordinance already bans smoking within 25 feet of a public facility, places of employment, bars and restaurants and at outdoor sports arenas and stadiums. Those restrictions, all within the last decade, came with controversy, often drawing droves of people to testify at City Council meetings.

Wednesday’s bans came more quietly as both department heads have the ability to govern and change rules of conduct on their grounds without going through City Council.

Here’s the city’s press release on this. I joke about not having realized this, but I can attest that a lot of the people that congregate near the downtown library on Smith Street smoke. Perhaps this will change that. Regardless, I’m always in favor of less smoking.

Note, by the way, the utter lack of any controversy around this. Sure, that’s partly because this was an administrative decision, and partly because there isn’t really a constituency for smoking at parks and libraries like there was for smoking at bars and restaurants. But man, remember the fuss that all kicked up? The apocalyptic predictions? Well, eight years later Houston is a booming, nationally-recognized restaurant scene, and last I checked we still had bars and live music. In fact, the oft-cited Rudyard’s bar in Montrose is alive and well, as is The Next Door. I don’t remember the last time I heard any complaints about Houston’s smoking ban. As someone who remembers being forced by occasional circumstance to sit next to smokers on airplanes, I cannot begin to tell you how much nicer the world we live in now is. Hair Balls has more.

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