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Eight Circuit Upholds Outdoor Smoking Ban

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by Publius
Posted November 12, 2012, 4:56 PM

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Legal challenges to indoor smoking bans have failed. But prohibitions on smoking in outdoor areas are churning in the courts. Which brings us to Clayton, Mo., a city that borders St. Louis.

Arthur Gallagher, an avid outdoor smoker, sued Clayton in 2011, claiming a ban on smoking in city parks it had enacted a year earlier was unconstitutional. (Several other cities, including New York, have similar bans.) He asked the federal courts to recognize smoking as a fundamental right and argued that any law restricting tobacco use deserves the utmost scrutiny from judges.

On Thursday, the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit declined to recognize a right to smoke and held that Clayton had a rational basis to restrict smoking in parks — namely, to preserve and protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Mr. Gallagher had argued that the ordinance unfairly targeted smokers but failed to address other sources of air pollution, such as smoke from barbeques or exhaust from nearby vehicles. He also argued that no member of the public could be harmed by secondhand smoke outdoors, because it dissipates in the air.

Clayton relied on a number of studies in enacting the law, including a report of the U.S. Surgeon General indicating “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” the Eighth Circuit noted, in an opinion by Chief Judge William Riley.

“We need not determine whether outdoor secondhand smoke exposure actually causes harm. Because the City reasonably could believe this to be true, the Ordinance survives,” Judge Riley wrote.

Bevis Schock, who represents Mr. Gallagher, disputed whether the city could have reasonably believed that secondhand smoke outdoors causes harm, given the dearth of research on the subject.

(One of the few studies found that nonsmokers who visited outdoor restaurants and bars where smoking was allowed had elevated levels of tobacco-related chemicals in the body compared with people at a smoke-free control site.)

“People who smoke are pariahs in polite, sophisticated society, but people in the lower rungs of society smoke all the time,” he said. “There is a class warfare element to this thing that is unattractive, and we’re pushing for liberty.”

The Eighth Circuit ruling affirmed an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw in St. Louis.

 

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