Smoking Ban Could Expand to Greensboro Parks

SMOKEFREE A smoking ban proposal could encompass 175 parks and recreational facilities in Greensboro.

Smokers could no longer light up legally in any part of the municipal park system under a proposal city officials are considering.

If enacted in full, the ban would cover all outdoor areas across a system that encompasses about 175 parks and other recreational facilities, including greenways and trails.

Cone Health Foundation recently asked the city parks and recreation commission to make the system “100 percent tobacco free” in line with findings by the Office of the Surgeon General and Centers for Disease Control on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“We have more than 4,000 acres of beautiful public parks in Greensboro,” said Susan F. Shumaker, foundation president. “Our policies should protect the right to breathe safely and promote using these healthy parks.”

The commission deferred immediate action, opting instead for a monthlong period to take comment from city residents.

Raleigh leaders enacted a similar ban in February to take effect this summer, but exempted smokeless tobacco, two downtown parks and the parking lots of its various parks and recreation facilities. Parks run by Asheville, Boone and Buncombe County also are tobacco-free.

Backers of the Greensboro proposal would prefer no exemptions, Shumaker said: “The larger the smoke-free footprint, the better.”

The debate should be lively. Smoking-ban proponents can cite studies suggesting second-hand smoke is harmful outside just as it is indoors. The foundation points to an estimated 1,700 nonsmoking North Carolinians who die each year of disease tied to secondhand smoke.

Meanwhile, critics can fault the initiative as another example of what they might portray as America’s growing “nanny” government that goes overboard preventing people from making choices it considers unwise. They can also raise questions about whether smokers puffing away in the middle of an open field harm anyone other than themselves.

The Cone nonprofit, which promotes public health, commissioned a poll earlier this year that found 64 percent of those surveyed supported making the city’s parks tobacco free. About 58 percent said they’d be more likely to use such parks.

The health group’s proposal would tighten existing restrictions on smoking imposed five years ago by the parks commission. The policy bans smoking at all city playgrounds and youth athletics fields from Barber Park to Latham Park and Leonard Recreation Center.

Signs identify these areas and ask people to respect the policy, said Chris Wilson, who directs the city’s division of park management and operations. It took effect with little fanfare and has been reasonably effective after a few months of getting the word out, Wilson said.

To become law, such a comprehensive ban as proposed by the foundation requires approval by the appointed park board after the comment period, followed by City Council ratification, he said.

The city needs a more sweeping program because the existing policy isn’t as effective as it could be, Shumaker said. She recalled recently setting out with a group of health-conscious teenagers to pick up litter and guess where they found a bunch of cigarette butts? At one of those playgrounds where smoking supposedly is already banned.

By Taft Wireback

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