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Order Applies to City Land

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque smokers can forget about lighting up in city parks, Civic Plaza or outside the airport.
    Mayor Martin Chávez signed an order on Monday banning outdoor smoking on all city-owned property. Smoking indoors is already prohibited.
    The order goes into effect Friday— timed to coincide with the start of new state regulations that prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces.
    Chávez, in a news conference, said he used to smoke but has been "cigarette-free" for 17 years. The new ban might provide some extra encouragement for people struggling to quit, he said.
    "Sometimes it takes something like this to give you the initiative to quit," Chávez said.
    He described the ban as an "executive order," meaning it doesn't require City Council approval.
    Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, legislative coordinator for the mayor, said the outdoor-smoking ban will help protect children and others from secondhand smoke.
    Nathan Bush of the American Cancer Society said Albuquerque's ban "is the broadest measure that I've seen in New Mexico that addresses outdoor areas."
    Some communities have more limited bans, he said. Silver City has one park that's smoke-free, for example, and Mesilla has a no-smoking ordinance for its plaza and surrounding area.
    Nationwide, 544 municipalities had bans on smoking in outdoor public spaces as of April, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, an advocacy group. Many are in small communities, but larger cities— like San Francisco— have also enacted the regulation.
    The foundation's Web site said 2,572 municipalities nationwide have some form of a smoking ban.
    According to the U.S. surgeon general, Bush said, no level of exposure to secondhand smoke is acceptable for your health.
    The outdoor ban "is a prudent step," Bush said.
    Smokers reacted with disdain.
    "It's our right to smoke where we want," said Alice Lopez, a state employee who was smoking outside a Downtown office building.
    In interviews, several people said they avoid smoking near nonsmokers and are disappointed by the ban. They were skeptical it would make them smoke any less.
    "I do go out of my way to make sure I'm not offending anyone," said Toni Meyers, a customer-service representative in Albuquerque.
    Meyers was smoking Monday outside the Downtown library— a popular spot for smokers.
    "It's gotten to be where you can't smoke anywhere," said Paul Cate, who said he has been smoking since he was a youngster.
    Chávez said there will be no legal or financial penalties for people who flout the executive order on smoking: A city worker will simply ask you to put out the cigarette or leave the property.
    Open-space rangers, parks employees and police will be on the lookout for people violating the ban, a city spokeswoman said.
    The ban means you can't smoke in city-owned parking lots, at bus stops or Isotopes Park. Also, city employees cannot smoke inside city vehicles, Chávez said.
    "Any public land owned by the city is now smoke-free," he said.
    If tougher penalties are needed, he said, the city administration may ask councilors to approve an ordinance outlining fines or other punishment.
    Smoking is already banned inside Albuquerque restaurants under an ordinance sponsored by Councilor Michael Cadigan four years ago.
    He said he supports the outdoor ban. Research indicates that the "best way to cut down on" smoking is to make it inconvenient, Cadigan said.
    It's good "public policy to make smoking as inconvenient as possible," he said in an interview.
    The ban announced Monday does have limits. People can still smoke on sidewalks on private property, such as those in neighborhoods, Cadigan said.
    The new state regulations, starting Friday, prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, stores and workplaces. New Mexico is the 17th state to adopt such a smoking ban, according to anti-smoking activists.
Journal staff writer Hailey Heinz contributed to this report.