Gainesville scores high for intolerance and stupidity

By Calvin Palmer

At the moment most of the world is equating Gainesville, Florida, with Pastor Terry Jones and his proposed burning of copies of the Koran on Saturday as a protest against the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York.

The 58-year-old minister’s International Burn A Quran Day has drawn condemnation from both within the United States and overseas, particularly Muslim countries.

Thankfully, Jones has seen the light and today called off his protest.

In Gainesville, intolerance and stupidity are not just confined to members of bizarre religious groups. Those qualities are also found in Gainesville City Commission, which last month passed a city ordinance banning smoking at Regional Transit System bus-stops.

The ordinance, passed on August 5, prohibits smoking within 20 feet of Regional Transit System open-air and semi-enclosed bus shelters.

RTS spokesman Chip Skinner said the ordinance was passed for the health of the public.

The ban on bus-stop smoking was introduced because the University of Florida has banned smoking on its campus and students were leaving the campus to smoke at bus stations, especially those around Shands.

The campus ban came into effect on July 1and the city acted in the light of public complaints, said Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa.

RTS has put up signs about the new ordinance at the Rosa Parks Downtown Station and has ordered stickers to be placed on all bus stop signs, Skinner said.

No arrests will be made for violating the new ban but a warning will be given along with a $75 fine. Any law enforcement and code enforcement officer can enforce the new ban, he said.

Where does the stupidity of this ordinance come in? Well it does not apply to people on private property within 20 feet of a bus station or bus-stop. It also does not include people passing by in a motor vehicle, a non-motor vehicle or bicycle.

Just a minute, I thought the ordinance was introduced to protect the public’s health. Surely cigarette smoke from someone on private property, a passing car or someone riding a bike is just as harmful as that exhaled by someone standing at a bus-stop.

Imagine the scene where a smoker can be smoking on his front lawn within 20 feet of a bus-stop but if the smoker steps on to the sidewalk, he/she is suddenly violating an ordinance introduced to protect the public’s health.

And what is the situation if a person lights up a cigarette outside the 20-feet limit and then just allows the cigarette to burn whilst standing within the 20-feet limit. If the person does not take a pull on the cigarette, they cannot be deemed to be smoking. Or does the ordinance extend to the burning of tobacco within 20-feet of a bus-stop?

While Pastor Terry Jones’ misguided protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment, alas the rights of smokers to consume tobacco in the open air have no constitutional backing? The pursuit of happiness may well have been included in the Declaration of Independence but it failed to make it to the U.S. Constitution.

This Gainesville ordinance has nothing to do with the public’s health but more to do with pandering to the anti-tobacco lobby and health fascists, aided and abetted by junk science and pseudo scientists, who abhor tobacco and those who choose to smoke tobacco.

I came across more nonsense the other day in a radio advert by Tobacco Free Florida where the narrator alluded to the presence of cyanide in cigarette smoke.

Cyanide is an evocative word, after all hydrogen cyanide was used in the systematic extermination of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War

The anti-smoking lobby will assert that the presence of hydrogen cyanide in cigarette smoke puts non-smokers at risk. But how come no one has ever died of cyanide poisoning due to exposure to cigarette smoke? Why aren’t smokers keeling over dead 20 feet away from bus-stops in Gainesville after inhaling the hydrogen cyanide contained in their cigarettes?

Suddenly, Pastor Terry Jones does not seem such an isolated case of crass stupidity, bigotry and intolerance.

[Based on a report by The Gainesville Sun.]

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