CASPER — Banning smoking in Conwell Park is far from a certainty, despite its approval by the Casper City Council at a work session earlier this month.
The request to ban smoking in the park was made by representatives of the Wyoming Medical Center, which went smoke-free in July.
Patients, visitors and hospital employees have taken to crossing the street and smoking in the park.
Casper Mayor Kenyne Schlager weighed in to break a tie among the split council, advancing the measure on a 5-4 vote after hearing from hospital officials.
Approval at the work session is the first of four steps taken to change a law. The measure, after it is drafted by the city’s legal department, will need to be approved three times at separate public hearings before it can take effect.
The discussions at a work session earlier this month ended with more questions than answers, casting doubt on the measure’s ability to survive the scrutiny and fighting that can accompany controversial law changes.
Areas of uncertainty include the ability of Casper police to enforce a new law, whether the city should ban smoking on open-air public property, and whether it is good policy to carve out an exception for a single entity.
Some council members thought the hospital should clean the park of the cigarette butts instead of asking the city to change its law.
Hospital spokesman Mike Phillips would only say it would be a “challenge” when Ward 2 Councilman Glenn Januska asked him if the hospital would help clean the park, which Phillips acknowledged was dirtier because of hospital patients, visitors and staff.
Besides, Phillips argued, the litter is a small issue.
“The major issue is that smoking is a leading cause of death and the safety of people going back and forth across the street,” Phillips said. “Litter is not catastrophic.”
Ward 1 Councilman Keith Goodenough said smoking in the park was an unintended consequence of the hospital’s decision to go smoke-free. Phillips said the hospital won’t go back to having designated smoking areas.
Ward 3 Councilman Paul Bertoglio and Goodenough, rarely on the same side of an issue, also shared a concern that the hospital was telling people not to smoke on city sidewalks.
An ordinance change might prompt people to stand on the sidewalk and smoke, which is legal, Goodenough argued.
Philosophical differences aside, there is also the matter of enforcement.
“I don’t agree with passing ordinances we’re not going to be able to enforce. Our police have enough to do now. ... They don’t have time to go and check on smoking,” Ward 2 Councilman Bill Brauer said.
Brauer, who said he probably wouldn’t vote for the ordinance, said the proposal was flawed.
“If we want to make the city smoke-free, you might convince me. I hate to be around it. But to pick one area and say we’re doing it for health ... we’re doing it because don’t want to clean up,” Brauer said. “It’s not for health in just one area.”
Contact Pete Nickeas at email@example.com or 307-266-0639.