The City of Ottawa stopped short of banning tobacco in city parks. But city commissioners sent a strong message to smokers to be considerate of areas where children are at play before taking that next drag.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve a resolution encouraging residents to voluntarily recognize tobacco-free zones in Ottawa’s park areas.
Banning smoking entirely from parks would be difficult to enforce, city officials agreed Wednesday night during the commission meeting at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.
“It’s a voluntary statement. That’s how it was drafted to give credence to the concern about the use of tobacco but also to recognize whenever you’re going to prohibit ... you are going to have to talk about enforcement. There are a lot of nuances to enforcement,” Richard U. Nienstedt, Ottawa’s city manager, said.
While Nienstedt said he did not agree with people having tobacco in the park, perhaps parents and grandparents were not being given enough credit for their efforts to shield children from tobacco while they are at play.
“I think you can make a statement and post signs that encourage people to not do these things around children, but I think it is a slippery slope when you start talking about prohibiting and start talking about enforcement on issues like this,” Nienstedt said.
Another sticking point to the prohibition discussion is “whether we like it or not tobacco is a legal drug.”
Orliss Cox Sports Complex, 901 W. Second St., Ottawa, has already taking steps to discourage smoking in certain areas by posting signs near bleachers, Mike Skidmore, Ottawa’s mayor, said.
“I understand from Chad Bruner at ORC [Ottawa Recreation Commission] that he feels people do respect those signs and go in the parking lots if they choose to smoke,” Skidmore said. “I’m confident it would also work in our other parks.”
The lone person to address the commission on this issue Wednesday said he did not think voluntary tobacco-free zones went far enough.
“I would just like to suggest as a concerned citizen of this county that we make that a stronger statement and to maybe prohibit the use of tobacco in our parks,” Ralph Walker, a Williamsburg resident who works in Ottawa, said. “I think we have the opportunity to protect the health of our citizens, but [also] as a city to recognize the health hazards of tobacco. To make that statement to our community that we recognize that [health hazard] and that we prohibit the use in our parks.”
Walker, who said his family enjoys the parks in Ottawa, closed his remarks by urging the commission to prohibit the use of tobacco in the parks.
Another Franklin County community is taking a similar approach to discourage tobacco use in certain areas through a resolution or policy.
“I had a short conversation with the mayor [of Williamsburg],” Nienstedt said. “The mayor views that adoption as voluntary. Those were his words to me.”
The commission heard a presentation March 7 from Erin Laurie, health educator at the Franklin County Health Department as well as many community members, supporting the ban for health reasons. A task force had been formed to consider the proposal and Laurie brought their findings to the commission.
“Parks and outdoor recreation spaces are highly valued environments in neighborhoods and communities that promote individual and community wellness,” she said at the March 7 meeting. “Making these environments tobacco free really makes sense and is really in alignment with establishing a community norm of health behaviors.”
Laurie presented evidence that showed second-hand smoke, even outdoors, can provide a health hazard. She also presented feedback the task force received through a survey and social media. Her findings were that 60 percent of those who responded were in favor of the tobacco ban.
At the meeting Wednesday night, Tom Weigand, city commissioner, referenced the health hazards of tobacco brought to the commission’s attention by the county health department. He also pointed out the danger discarded cigarettes pose to others like children, birds and pets.
“I think we have an obligation to address some of those concerns in regard to our community’s health and the environment of those who live here and visit here,” Weigand said. “I think that’s where we are on this resolution that we are going to vote on tonight. I think it’s appropriate. I have a tendency to believe with the gentleman from Williamsburg ... maybe [establishing tobacco-free zones] is a first step. We’ll see how it works voluntarily. Going forward ... [we have] got to give some responsibility to the smokers to limit how they smoke around children and other nonsmokers.”
Blake Jorgensen was a city commissioner when Ottawa created a smoking ban in places of employment, he said.
“That was particularly for individuals that had to work in a place that may have allowed smoking — restaurants, offices and so forth,” Jorgensen, city commissioner, said. “When the city passed that ordinance it wasn’t much later, maybe a year later, when the state passed the same ordinance prohibiting smoking in places of employment, indoors. At that time there were several public comments about smoking and smokers’ rights and so forth.
“I think the ordinance that was presented to us is creating no-smoking zones within the park,” he said. “It’s allowing smoking to be in certain areas and away from where the children play in the playgrounds and ball fields, the bleachers and so forth.”
Jorgensen said he thought the ordinance was a compromise.
“... We have listened to both sides of the issue and have come up with what we think is a solution to keep smokers away from children ... but then allow it to be in areas of the park that are away from that area, to provide a separation between where children play and where smokers can smoke.”