Mayor Nutter’s Public Park Smoking Ban Is Pointless Nanny-State Grandstanding

Smokers pay taxes — very high taxes — on their cigarettes. And they already put up with enough BS from non-smokers.


Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter seems to be in the middle of an existential crisis. Now, normally this confrontation with life, the universe, and everything is perfectly natural and OK. That is, most men react to these crises with something harmless like impulse-buying a sports car.

The problem here, though, is that Nutter is taking at least 375,000 Philadelphians along for his ride into the “What’s the point?” abyss with his new executive order “banning” smoking in public parks.

Nutter’s the guy who callously slashed library funding by $8 million in 2008, eliminating 117 library jobs. Later, Nutter tearfully “corrected” his wrong by putting back a fraction ($2.5 million) of the original cut in his proposed budget this year. He also proposed the new property tax valuations, called the AVI. It’s arguably a necessary fix but nobody’s happy about it, particularly because the AVI seems at best complicated and at worst arbitrary. And, Nutter’s the guy currently presiding over a police force disproportionately arresting black people while seemingly ignoring white people violating those very same laws.

Basically, Nutter seems to be in the middle of an identity crisis because he sure as hell looks a lot like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg right now.

Bloomberg presided over one of the most obnoxiously nanny-stating tenures in New York City history. He banned sugary sodas, a ban later deemed unconstitutional by the courts. Bloomberg also presided over a police force notorious for its racist practices and procedures. And, Bloomberg really doesn’t care for smoking. Not one bit. Hell, even NPR calls Bloomberg’s obsession with tobacco an all out “crusade.”

Nonetheless, when Mayor Michael Nutter tried to tax sodas in his first term, I understood it. A 2 percent levy on a substance that, like all other empty calorie foods, causes more problems than it fixes is somewhat reasonable. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nearly 70 percent of adult Philadelphians are overweight or obese. This is a problem.

Still, it was wrongheaded because, really, in this city there’s a hell of a lot more to fix than convincing Wawa customers to get a bottle of water instead of a Sprite (more important things to fix like, you know, making sure kids can actually read by not cutting library funding).

Now, smoking is a very bad thing indeed. In fact, as a smoker, I recognize how utterly stupid, disgusting, and awful my wonderful nicotine habit is. But, Philadelphians who smoke pay taxes on these cigarettes. Very high taxes. And, we go outside and accept that everyone hates us.

Most bizarre of all is the fact that because Nutter decided to spend time “fixing” the public smoking in parks non-issue with an executive order instead of allowing the democratic process to actually commence via City Council, the police can’t really do anything to offenders. Basically, Nutter has empowered city officials to wag their fingers at smokers in Rittenhouse Square.

The thing is that we already have laws on the books prohibiting littering in public parks. So there goes that rationale. And, nobody in his right mind seriously thinks that smoking outdoors away from other people produces the same type of secondhand smoke that is actually harmful to folks. So there goes that rationale. And, the executive order is toothless without serious ramifications (like a monetary penalty) for violations. So, there goes that rationale.

Basically, this was a ploy for attention and to burnish some sort of nanny-stater bona fides. Congratulations, Mayor Nutter! You’ve just pissed everyone off for no apparent reason at all. And, you’ve just made the law look completely arbitrary and meaningless. At the risk of sounding hysterical, I need to point out that the more our government enacts policies nobody follows or believes in, the less anyone takes the law seriously in any regard.

These toothless regulations do nothing but piss people off and alienate folks. Poor Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, a smoker himself, is inhaling the vapors of Nutter’s pointless nanny-state trolling, too. He’s even hysterically raising the specter of fascism in relation to the ban. Bykofsky said to  Newsworks, “I think, eventually, all the cigarette smokers will be rounded up and forced into one ghetto in a part of the city where they will be allowed to smoke and they will not be allowed to smoke in their own homes.”

Now, histrionics aside, Bykofsky has a point. Where the hell is the limit to this insanity? These weird forays into statism don’t just affect a small number of folks, either. The CDC says that 25 percent of all Philadelphians smoke: That’s 375,000 people who are already putting up with enough bullshit from non-smokers.

So, really, there’s a lot of work to be done in Philadelphia. And, I like Michael Nutter a lot. He has a good vision for Philadelphia. But, really, things are starting to look a wee bit too much like Thunderdome for us to be worrying about non-issues like this right now.

Josh Kruger is a writer and commentator in Philadelphia.  He is the 2014 recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ award for best non-daily commentary in Pennsylvania. Follow @jawshkruger on Twitter.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • phlhui

    It really is pointless. People already smoke on subway platforms and wherever else. You think they’re not gonna light up in city parks?

    Lots of things are outlawed and people do them anyway. There will be zero enforcement of this

    Nutter’s goal is to be the black Bloomberg. Fact. It’s really irritating.

  • GE

    here comes the waaaaaabulance. I’ll tell you what it helps…all of those nasty cigarette butts that litter the sidewalks. If you want to smoke…do it in your own home. The other 75% of us don’t want to be bothered with having to deal with lung cancer.

    • J.Oz


    • ScottEwing

      Better idea. Lets ban all the people dumb enough to believe the nanny state twaddle. You first.

      • GE

        ha. Who’s being a nanny now? You can’t talk about philly’s nanny state dealings and then turn around and ask for someone to be banned. Typical hypocrite in Philly.

        • ScottEwing

          …and the winner for dumbest post of the year goes to…… GE

  • KB

    I have an idea..quit smoking.

    • Northeaster

      Great, how about we examine your life and find all of your bad habits so we can nag you.

      • GE

        be my guest. whenever it starts affecting your life, I welcome you to it.

        • Northeaster

          Smoking in public doesn’t affect your life either.

  • Sick of it

    Some people enjoy fresh air! I am so tired of inhaling your disgusting addiction. If you had to inhale a fowl smell everywhere you went, you would want it stopped too. It’s nasty and is harmful to EVERYONE

    • ScottEwing

      So move, hater.

      • GE

        you seem to be in the minority here, pal

        • ScottEwing

          Keep talking. I always yawn when I’m interested.

    • Soldat

      Yo want fresh air yet have chosen to live in a major city….are you retarded?

  • J.Oz

    Dear Mr. Mayor,

    Are you ####### kidding me with this ###? FIX THE SCHOOLS !!!

  • Joe Kazmierski

    Let’s ban people, too! Whites, Blacks, Other.

  • willy

    Nutter is right on. Who likes to see cigarette buts on the grass, hedges, etc.? Second hand smoke is the other issue. All too often the wind shifts and you get some of the toxic pollution from someone else’s poor choice.

    • Arlingtonvirginia

      Ban cars!

  • the_g0nz

    Every day that passes, I’m happier that I moved out of that ugly hellhole populated by criminals, union goons, hipsters, and limp wristed wussies afraid of “thecond hand thmoke”.

  • Chessinison

    We live in a city. The air is not clean, regardless of cigarettes. Ever consider what’s in the water while you’re bathing? How about the fact that as soon as you’re born you start dying?

  • ladyfun

    OMG I don’t live in Russia, can we get our elected officals to stop stealing , can the Mayor get the schools for the future of our kids, smoking in public parks, soon we will all be wearing ankle bracelets to know where we are and who we are with.
    ‘Get over your self with the second hand smoke, if not in an ËNCLOSED area, you don’t inhale it.. GOD can you please solve some REAL problems.. I am so over the smoking thing… OPEN el stations come one?????

  • ladyfun

    GE 75% is a bit inflated.. and lung cancer, you ride the bus, you come out of your home? lung cancer IS not only caused by EXCESSIVE smoking.. look it up. Oh sure I would rather smell smoke, then see these drunk ass hipsters/young people that walk up and down MY street EVERY weekend from the wonderful new bars and food eateries, i can’t call them resturants they are over rated liquor servers that don’t know when to stop serving their drunk as customers… . they pee my street, throw their trash everywhere.. please share where you live, I can sent them there…

  • ladyfun

    I with scott… winner of the year… ge

  • Where next? Well, just a few years before England banned smoking in all its pubs, the head of the Brit Health ASH group reassured the media that was worried about such a ban that “This is a scaremongering story by a tobacco industry front group. No-one is seriously talking about a complete ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants.”

    We’ve seen how that turned out right?

    And where is it going? Well, just three months ago, Bates’ successor, Deb Arnott, reassured a worried public that “A ban in homes is not feasible or right”

    And you can rest assured that that is EXACTLY the direction Nutter and his fellow Antismokers are heading here as well. The propaganda trick is called “slicing the salami”: when you’re going to try to get away with something that’s too big to get away with all at once, just take it away one tiny slice at a time and no one will object too loudly.

    Read, learn, and get involved soon …. or it’ll be too late. And don’t be surprised when, once they think they have smoking “under control,” the Antis will take the lessons they’ve learned in modern social engineering and apply them, again step-by-step, to a new Alcohol Prohibition.

    – MJM

  • guest

    Not gonna lie. I hate smokers. I don’t want them in my city. My family came to this country so we didn’t have to put up with vices like tobacco and alcohol. While I don’t think it is the governments place to tell people what they can and can’t do, the government has every right to say that you can’t smoke on government property. Seriously, I have no sympathy for you. I didn’t see all of you complaining when skateboarding got banned in public area, and unlike smoking, skateboarding isn’t a filthy, disgusting habit. And to what everyone keeps saying about “fixing the schools.” I think the schools do their job fine. What quality of education do you really expect to get for free? If you want something, you have to pay for it. I was born and raised in Philly and pretty much everyone I know was educated at a private institution. Yes, it sucks but that is life. If you want something of quality, don’t expect to get it for nothing.

    • You’re not alone in hating smokers “guest.” See and you’ll see the sort of sentiments that have been built out there over the last twenty years. As for gvt having the right to set rules on gvt property, that’s fine — even if I think the rules are bad or pointless. How about we agree to let gvt do that, while meanwhile PRIVATE owners of bars, restaurants, and workplaces and housing in general have the right to make their own rules too?

      – MJM

  • gagginginphila

    when i moved to phila, i thought i’d be able to sit & read in rittenhouse sq. what an idiot i was. i’d sit down & someone would sit next to me & light up. i’d move & someone else would sit next to me & light up. i’d move & someone else would sit next to me & light up. now i have to go to central park if i want to breathe fresh air. philadelphians are a sick people trying to make themselves sicker. do it in the privacy of your own home. 25% underestimates how many people here smoke. when i get off the subway (where people smoke on the platform) at the lung cancer corridor in south philly, i always pass a dozen people before i see someone who doesn’t smoke & that’s usually because theyre only 3 or 4 years old. it’s amazing to hear junkies like mr kruger bragging about their addiction & then trying to force it on others.

    • “. do it in the privacy of your own home. ” Sorry, the Antismokers are decreeing that unless you live alone in a detached building you are not longer allowed to smoke “in your own home.” Since folks like you have thrown smokers out of the bars and restaurants and workplaces and now even their homes, I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with Rittenhouse Square.

      – MJM