SNUFFED OUT ... Critics of the infamously thorough "Palo Alto process" will likely be shocked by the dizzying speed with which the city is proceeding to ban smoking at local parks. The idea to make small downtown parks smoke-free was floated by Mayor Greg Scharff during his February "State of the City" speech. It then swiftly spread to the council's Policy and Services Committee, which within minutes expanded the ban from the five proposed parks to every local park smaller than 5 acres. And this new idea can become law of the land as early as Monday night, when the full City Council considers the proposed ban. If approved, the new law would affect 24 parks and plazas, including prominent hubs such as City Hall's King Plaza, Heritage Park and Lytton Plaza, where smoking is particularly common. A new report from the Community Services Department lists several reasons for the new ban. Chief among these is public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 443,000 deaths in the United States are attributable to tobacco annually, with 49,000 of these attributed to second-hand smoke. City officials have also been fielding complaints from downtown residents and businesses about smoking, particularly in urban spaces such as Lytton Plaza and Cogswell Plaza. These complaints, according to the new report, pertain to litter, fire safety, environmental quality or, in some cases, all of the above. Furthermore, the report states, numerous studies show that "an overwhelming majority of people want more restrictions on smoking in public places, parks and places or employment. ... For these reasons, more and more cities and counties in the United States and in California particularly, are adopting bans on smoking in outdoor public areas in an effort to reduce exposure to the known hazardous and unwanted effects of second-hand smoke."
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