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Plaza Smoking Ban Takes Effect as Law Bars Dogs, Alcohol

Matthew Hersh

Princeton smokers looking forward to lighting up in the soon-to-be opened public plaza will have to light up elsewhere as Borough Council last week approved a measure that will ban all smoking from the 15,000-square-foot area next to the Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street. The ordinance reflects statewide initiatives whose aim is to rid public places of second hand smoke.

The plaza, which is expected to open in a matter of weeks, will house the retail store Rouge, and the Witherspoon Grill, which will both be non-smoking, including the outdoor patio seating section. Along with smoking, Council outlawed dogs, gambling, bicycles, skateboards, and alcohol in the plaza. Violators could face fines and/or community service.

The approval of the measure did not come without dissent. Councilman David Goldfarb, the lone detractor, worried that the ordinance was taking aim at an issue that did not need to be addressed. While "there's a clear case that can be made that secondary smoke is an issue indoors," he said, "there's absolutely no evidence that there's a health danger" when it comes to outdoor smoking.

And while there is a vote pending in the state Senate the would allow municipalities to create their own laws on smoking in private restaurants and bars ‹ towns are currently not at liberty to do so ‹ the plaza is municipally-owned, and thus subject to municipal law ‹ a point driven home by Councilwoman Peggy Karcher.

"[The plaza] is not privately owned, we own this, it's public property Š and we should be entitled to make our own rules and regulations," she said.

Borough Attorney Michael Herbert agreed, saying that the Borough has the right, under current state law, to outlaw smoking in the plaza. And while Mr. Herbert could not "guarantee enforcement," he did indicate that there would be "greater policing of the area."

Mr. Goldfarb said the code went beyond "what is reasonably necessary" in terms of regulating the behavior of residents. "Is it really necessary to have the government looking over your shoulder wherever you go?" he said, adding that the area that the smoking ordinance targets is one that is already under duress when it comes to air quality, with the bus and traffic fumes that result from in-town traffic.

The smoking ban was endorsed by the Princeton Regional Health Commission, which had already urged the Borough to adopt the measure.

"The Commission thinks that one of the most powerful means to encourage young people to remain tobacco-free is to create a community in which non-smoking is the norm," said a letter to Borough Council from Susan Kapoor, chair of the Commission. "By discouraging smoking in public places, we can help establish non-tobacco use as the acceptable adult behavior."

Mr. Goldfarb, on the other hand, felt that the the ordinance would actually encourage smokers to "disrespect the law.

"I think our ordinances should not try to interfere with people's personal choices."



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