Dover’s smoking ban currently lacking fire

Laura Lenkiwicz of Lewes smokes her cigarette on a bench in front of Dover City Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Laura Lenkiwicz of Lewes smokes her cigarette on a bench in front of Dover City Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — It began as a simple request from the staff at the Dover Public Library for city council to come up with an ordinance that would ban smoking from the facility and its surrounding grounds.

However, the issue morphed into something much larger and complex after Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. recommended expanding the proposed library smoking ban to include all city buildings, parking lots and parks at a city council meeting on Aug. 8.

Mr. Sudler’s amendment passed with a unanimous vote and the ordinance was reaffirmed at a Sept. 12 council meeting.

Dover City Manager Scott Koenig said that from an administrative standpoint the city’s smoking ban “is in effect.”

The problem is there are currently no signs telling people they cannot smoke on city properties, there are no penalties in place for violators and it remains to be seen as to who will be enforcing the smoking ban.

As of right now, the smoking ban appears to be a moving target.

A crushed empty pack of cigarettes lays on the sidewalk in front of Dover City Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

A crushed empty pack of cigarettes lays on the sidewalk in front of Dover City Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“As far as I know the city manager [Mr. Koenig] is still working with it,” said Mr. Sudler, who added he has seen some city employees smoking regularly in front of City Hall. “I don’t know why it takes so long to put up some signs.

“I know there has been a lot of resistance from some city employees and I think they’d like to see the ban get reversed, but that’s just not happening. It’s a done deal.”

Mr. Koenig said city staff is currently searching for similar signage to the state’s when it comes to the smoking ban. He added the signs are not a budgeted expense and the city is unsure of the costs right now and there is no immediate timeline for the project.

“The smoking ban includes all real property, so it includes anything that has a deed, like City Hall, the library, and all of our facilities and parks,” Mr. Koenig said. “We have to bring forward an ordinance change, our solicitor has recommended there’s some change to the ordinance, and we probably have to update some policies.

“They’re not supposed to be smoking [on city property]. There’s not a penalty and there’s not a fine. The question becomes, ‘Is it subject to the [employee] disciplinary process?’ The expectation is that the employees understand that council has banned it and they’re expected to self-police right now.”

Mr. Sudler suggested the city follow the State of Delaware’s statute in regards to the penalties and enforcement code.

Violators of the state’s policy “may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal, based on standards set forth in the Merit Rules, collective bargaining agreements, or other applicable laws or policies.”

Councilman Brian Lewis can see issues with enforcing the smoking ban and wants to make sure city employees are treated equally when it comes to the penalties.

“The problem I see is how to enforce the ban on city employees, especially down at City Hall and buildings out of public view like city garages,” Mr. Lewis said. “In my opinion, if you get caught smoking in a non-smoking area you should be disciplined or fined.”

Mr. Sudler suffers from sarcoidosis, which is a disease that can affect the lungs, and said smoking is a big problem when it comes to public health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention around 1,200 deaths occur each year in Delaware as a result from cigarette smoking while there are more than 440,000 deaths from smoking-related illnesses in the United States.

“I think it is very important to have our youth in a clean, healthy environment,” Mr. Sudler said. “I’m not against people who smoke, but like my mother and father taught me, there’s a time and a place for everything.”

Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health, wrote a letter to Dover’s City Council on Aug. 16 commending it for its actions regarding smoking.

“I want to congratulate the Dover City Council for their actions at the August 8 City Council meeting passing a proposal to make the grounds around the Dover Library smoke free,” Ms. Rattay wrote. “I was especially happy to hear that the proposal was expanded to not allow smoking within 25 feet of all city offices and buildings and making all city parks smoke free.

“Your efforts will go a long way to protect the health, welfare and property of the citizens of Dover and to send a strong message that smoking around others is harmful. I hope that your efforts inspire other Delaware municipalities to follow your lead.”

Councilman Lewis had one big question regarding the city’s smoking ban – “What took so long?”

“The federal government, state government, restaurants and many other public entities have banned smoking on their properties through the years, so I don’t think this new ban should be that much of a surprise,” he said. “Like I said, it’s a matter of how will the city fairly enforce it without showing any favoritism.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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