Online petition seeks smoking ban at Lake Merritt


A new front is opening up in the battle between smokers and those who don't want to breathe their smoke.

An online petition is pushing for a ban on smoking at Lake Merritt. The petition, on a site called, is making some waves around normally placid Lake Merritt.

"I just try to be mindful. People are very sensitive about smoking nowadays, and I'm not oblivious to that," said one smoker.

But clearly, the smoke offends people; hence the 250 signatures on an Internet petition to the Oakland City Council that would ban smoking along Lake Merritt's perimeter.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf hasn't seen it -- yet.

"Certainly we've seen other petitions with more signatures than that, but 250 people is certainly something that's going to make us stand up and take notice," she said.

Smokers in Oakland are already banned from office buildings and areas within 25 feet of them.

Runners around Lake Merritt said they support the proposal. Why be forced to breathe lethal fumes when exercising, they asked.

"It's horrible, I can't stand it. It's almost disrespectful to the runners," runner Shabob Gaskin said. "This is a jogging and running area, not a smoking area."

But it's not that simple. At its core, the effort isn't so much about smoking as a fundamental argument about the nature of freedom -- does health outweigh the right to harm one's lungs?

"This world is going nuts. Our freedoms are disappearing all over. This is wrong," said John Mayer, a Lake Merritt walker.

Dog walker Eleni Hue said, "I do believe that smoking isn't good for anybody, but if it's in an outdoor area, I don't believe you can you legislate that."

But some are going to try.

"We have a right to have clean and fresh air as much as they have a right to smoke in designated areas," said Gaskin. Smokers should smoke somewhere other than the lake, he said.

ABC7 News reached out to the author of the petition by e-mail but did not receive a response. City council members have never seen an actual petition so this virtual effort may last as long as a puff of smoke in the air.

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