Riverbend organizers announced last week that the festival will extend no-smoking zones at this year's event, which begins on June 10 and concludes on June 18. That's a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. The ban does not include smokeless tobacco, and the smoking ban is not inclusive. A complete ban on the use of all tobacco products on festival grounds would best serve the public interest.
Still, a reduction in the areas where smoking is permitted is welcome. This year smokers will not be able to light up in the VIP seating area near the Coca-Cola Stage, which is Riverbend's main venue, or in the seating area at the Tennessee Valley Amphitheater and at the Unum Stage, and in the children's area near the Olgiati Bridge. Attendees will be able to smoke in all other areas of the event, said Chip Baker, executive director of the Friends of the Festival.
The extension of non-smoking areas was welcomed by Becky Barnes, administrator of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. She says, quite correctly, that the additional restrictions could "influence smokers to make a change to quit smoking." If true, that certainly would be beneficial in a community that currently has a teenage smoking rate that approaches 50 percent.
The festival could choose to take an even more active role in the effort to improve community health. A complete ban of all tobacco products on its grounds would be a useful adjunct to that admirable campaign. For the moment, though, Riverbend officials inexplicably have chosen not to impose such a ban.
That decision means that those who dip and chew - and spit their tobacco - can continue to do so with impunity anywhere on festival grounds. And it means that those who choose to smoke may still do so in some locales at Riverbend. That might please those who use tobacco, but it surely creates an unpleasant and unhealthy atmosphere for other festival attendees. They still will have to deal with second-hand smoke and the nasty messes left behind by thoughtless users of smokeless tobacco.
Baker said the new smoking limits will be enforced by the festival volunteers and, in some cases, by members of the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office who are patrolling the grounds. "We will ask [those who smoke] to leave if they don't follow the rules," he said. "Hopefully that takes care of it." There is, of course, a better way "to take care of it."
A complete ban on all tobacco products at Riverbend would make enforcement more efficient and effective. It also would provide patrons with a cleaner, healthier environment. Unfortunately, the 2011 edition of Riverbend won't be a tobacco-free event. Future festivals should be.