Big tobacco opposes smokefree CBD park

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2014
Midland Park smoking ban
ROBERT KITCHIN/ Fairfax NZ
WHERE TO NOW?: Smokers Suzanne Davidson, left, and Rebecca Fielding in Midland Park early this month. When questioned about the council’s smokefree proposal at the time, Davidson said: ‘‘Wherever you go these days people are going to hate it.’’ 

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No target is too small for big tobacco, not even where you eat you lunch.

Wellington City Council has pushed ahead with plans to make Midland Park, a popular inner-city lunch spot in Lambton Quay, smokefree from today.

However, Imperial Tobacco New Zealand has disagreed with the move. In a letter, the world's fourth-biggest tobacco company told the council that making the small park smokefree would create a "heightened risk of discrimination against smokers".

"We all choose to relax and use the park in different ways - as a chance to enjoy the sun, eat lunch, have a coffee or a cigarette - and we are concerned that those who smoke will no longer be welcome," it said.

In a response, the council replied that there were still plenty of beautiful parks where smokers could indulge their habit.

Paul Eagle, who chairs the community, sport and recreation committee, said he was little surprised that a tobacco company had waded into the park debate. "Something like this, I thought they might just let it go, but I guess they're up for a fight."

He said the park was being treated as a test case for making more Wellington public areas smoke-free. "Maybe they are worried it will become more widespread nationwide."

Imperial Tobacco was not the only objector to the plan, with one of 31 submitters claiming the council was conducting a "campaign of persecution" against smokers.

However, most submissions were overwhelmingly supportive and many pushed for a wider smoking ban in the inner city.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said today's ban would improve the experience in the inner city's busiest park. "We're making this move for healthy hearts, healthy lungs and healthy people."

A smokefree event will be held in the park today at 1.30pm to mark the change in its status.

Smokers in the capital are already banned from lighting up outside at Waitangi Park, sports parks, playgrounds, skate parks and Victoria University.

However, in Midland Park the council will be relying on signage and nasty looks to enforce the ban.

The ban will be only partial, as patrons at the two cafes with outdoor smoking areas that back on to the park will still be able to light up.

Wellington has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country, with about one in 10 adults smoking.

The Government has a target of making New Zealand smokefree by 2025.

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- The Dominion Post

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