Providence City Council backs downtown smoking ban, but Mayor Elorza’s veto may hold

(Photo: generic downtown Providence)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council on Wednesday gave final approval to a proposal to ban smoking and other tobacco products in part of downtown, but the ordinance didn’t secure enough support to survive a threatened veto from Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The City Council voted 8-5 to ban tobacco products in areas surrounding Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park, where tobacco use is already prohibited. Councilors Michael Correia, Carmen Castillo, Sam Zurier, Nick Narducci and Mary Kay Harris voted against the proposal. Councilman Luis Aponte was absent.

With five members opposing the ordinance, it appears Elorza will be able to veto the ban without the threat of a successful override from the council. It takes 10 councilors to override a veto.

Administration officials have publicly stated Elorza will seek to veto the ordinance and a spokesperson reiterated the mayor’s threat again Wednesday. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare has warned that enforcement of the ban “is not practical” given the police department’s limited resources.

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. But critics claim the ordinance is designed to rid downtown of primarily low-income people who spend much of their days near the bus terminal or in Burnside Park.

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