Despite Mayor Elorza’s threat to veto, City Council backs downtown smoking ban

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A proposal to ban smoking – and other tobacco products – in part of downtown Providence easily won first passage from the City Council Thursday, even after Mayor Jorge Elorza threatened to veto the ordinance.

The City Council voted 10-3 to ban tobacco products in areas surrounding Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park, where tobacco use is already prohibited. Two councilors, John Igliozzi and Kevin Jackson, were absent. Councilors Michael Correia, Carmen Castillo and Mary Kay Harris voted against the proposal.

The council’s ability to secure 10 votes is a sign the ordinance could have the ability to override a mayoral veto – overrides require 10 votes – but the ordinance must still be approved for a second time before Elorza can take action.

Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for the mayor, confirmed Elorza intends to veto the ordinance. In a letter to each council member, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare stated several concerns, including the ability to enforce the ordinance and the impact it will have on the relationship between community members and the police.

“We must prioritize our limited resources in public safety and enforcement of the smoking ban on the police is not practical,” Pare stated.

The proposal, which cleared the Council Ordinance Committee last month, would ban tobacco products in areas surrounding Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park, where tobacco use is already prohibited.

The tobacco ban would include both sides of the Superman Building – Fulton Street and part of Westminster Street – along with parts of Dorrance Street, Francis Street Exchange Terrace, Exchange Street and Memorial Boulevard. In other words, tobacco use would be prohibited on all of the streets that surround Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park.

The ordinance, which is supported by a group of downtown businessmen led by former Mayor Joseph Paolino, has been refined to ban smoking in a much smaller part of downtown.

A previous version of the proposal would have prohibited smoking – including electronic smoking devices – on all “non-enclosed sidewalks and other pedestrian areas” throughout most of downtown. In the revised ordinance, smoking is only permitted in private residences, private vehicles and on private property unless the owner prohibits tobacco use.

Penalties for violating the ordinance would include a warning for the first offense followed by a $50 fine for each successive offense.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan