Citizen’s petition calls for smoking ban on Massachusetts Street

Lawrence software developer Mike DuPont says he is sick of walking on Massachusetts Street and smelling like cigarette smoke when he gets home. He especially doesn’t want to expose his 2-month-old baby to it.

So he recently started an online petition to ban smoking on Massachusetts Street. He says that while current law restricts smoking in public buildings and within 10 feet of entrances, many people openly disobey it.

“It seems that the law is backfiring, so that you have more smoking affecting the public because all the smokers go outdoors,” said DuPont, who relocated to Kansas with his family in October. “Really for me, the downtown is one reason why we moved to Lawrence, so we don’t want to breathe smoke there.”

DuPont has a handful of signatures on his petition so far, and hopes to eventually take it before the City Commission to ask its members to outlaw smoking downtown. Lawrence’s ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which went into effect a decade ago this month, was itself sparked by a citizen complaining to the commissioners.

Across the country, smoking bans in city parks, beaches and other common areas have been on the rise in recent years; New York City famously outlawed smoking in outdoor public areas in 2011. But while the dangers of secondhand smoke are clear, much of the research on it has taken place in indoor settings.

James King, fire marshal for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire-Medical, said he can’t recall the last citation his department gave out for violating the local smoking ordinance. He said there’s been maybe a couple to a half dozen a year since it went into effect.

“There’s been a lot of good compliance in the city,” he said. “Maybe not surprisingly, there seems to be a lot of self-regulation. People will complain to the person smoking and they’ll stop or move further away.”

Lawrence claims collector Lindsey Frye signed DuPont’s petition, as she believes the current smoking ban just pushes smokers onto the sidewalk by pedestrians. She also says that if a city as big as New York can ban smoking outdoors, why can’t Lawrence?

“It’s hard to have a nice walk downtown with my young children when we are constantly forced to dodge through all the smoking on Mass. Street,” said Frye, 34, who has a 3- and a 10-year-old. “It ruins the ambiance of a great downtown.”

Several smokers interviewed on Massachusetts Street last week all said they would oppose such a ban. Most gave as their reasoning that the current law is restrictive enough.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous. It’s bad enough you’ve got to smoke outside or so far away from a door,” said a 45-year-old Lawrence man who declined to give his name, taking a puff off a cigarette at Massachusetts and Eighth streets Saturday. “Just get over it.”