PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – City Council leaders said Thursday they’re considering banning smoking throughout most of downtown Providence, a law that already has the support of some prominent business leaders.
The ordinance, co-sponsored by Council President Luis Aponte and Councilman Terry Hassett, was introduced at the request of downtown business owners, according to Aponte. The council Ordinance Committee will likely discuss the proposal after the council returns from its August break.
“I think it’s broad and far-reaching,” Aponte told WPRI.com. “It’s something we’ll discuss and seek a legal opinion on from the solicitor’s office.”
Earlier this year, Providence became one of nearly 1,000 cities across the country to prohibit smoking in public parks, but Aponte said the “unintended consequences” of that law included an increase in smoking – and leftover cigarette butts – on sidewalks in downtown.
Under the proposal, smoking – including electronic smoking devices – would be prohibited on all “non-enclosed sidewalks and other pedestrian areas” throughout downtown. Smoking would only be permitted in private residences, private vehicles and on private property unless the owner prohibits tobacco use.
Penalties would start with a warning before moving to a $50 fine for the second offense, $100 for the third offense and $250 for each additional offense, according to the proposed ordinance. The city would be required to post signs informing the public about the ban.
Reached Friday, a spokesman for Mayor Jorge Elorza said the mayor wants to “wait for an evaluation from our law department” before commenting on the proposal.
The ordinance already has the strong support of former Mayor Joseph Paolino, who wrote a June op-ed in The Providence Journal to advocate for the ban.
“If this bill saves one life it will be worth it, but a smoke-free downtown is more than a public-health issue,” Paolino wrote. “It’s also an economic-development issue because it would improve the quality of life downtown, making the area better for development. A smoke-free downtown could make our visitors’ experience more pleasant”
Paolino highlighted a decision by Boulder, Colorado, to ban smoking in its retail shopping district, suggesting it led to a decrease in litter. That city has steadily expanded its prohibition on smoking since 2012. In 2014, Burlington, Vermont, banned smoking in Church Street Marketplace, its outdoor shopping mall.
Frank LaTorre, the senior director of the Providence Downtown Improvement District, said other communities across the country that have moved to ban smoking have received support from their residents. He said the prohibition would enhance Providence’s image.
“Sending this signal to a lot of people may mean a lot,” he said. “It can have national ripples.”
In addition to the already-existing ban on smoking in parks, Providence officials have banned the sale of flavored tobacco and prohibited stores from offering two-for-one discounts for tobacco products in recent years. Providence police have also started to crack down on unlicensed hookah bars, particularly on Federal Hill.