Council takes on smoking in parks

The City Council debated the idea of prohibiting smoking in all or some of city parks and play areas on March 19. The Council sought to eliminate smoking near areas where children may be present. The Council discussed whether or not to post signs to discourage smoking in parks or around places where children may be present, or to make smoking in outdoor public places subject to a ticket. The areas targeted initially would be within 25 feet of a place where children play or an event is held outdoors.

The topic was brought to the Council by city parks and recreation director Bruce Fletcher, who said that discarded cigarettes and smoking were a problem in  some areas. A recent clean-up effort produced 157 cigarette butts from around the Island, with the highest concentrations found near the skate park in Mercerdale Park, in parking areas and near the beaches.

Fletcher also indicated that money was available for signs to limit smoking from a grant.

Picking up the litter is “disgusting to do, it is time-consuming and expensive,” said Fletcher.

He listed several other cities that had posted the signs and had various enforcement strategies in place.

The Council was split as to whether or not smoking in parks or near playgrounds was really a problem. Yet, since smoking especially around children is undesirable, how could the city protect children and respect the rights of citizens who smoke at the same time?

In an hour-long discussion, the Council went from the idea of keeping smoking away from children to considering penalizing those who smoke in parks to simply posting signs to declare areas “tobacco-free.”

Councilmember Tana Senn said that she believed it would be better to educate park users rather than look for a way to create more work for city staff.

Councilmember Mike Grady indicated that he considered smoking in parks as both an environmental and health threat.

“The volume of butts found is a ‘red flag,’” he said. “The fact remains that smoking is a health issue and presents an environmental threat.”

He urged the Council to ban smoking in all parks and establish an ordinance.

Jane Meyer Brahm suggested that it would be best to send a message rather than correct the problem with an ordinance that would require a ticket and a fine.

Others agreed that such signs will give other park users the basis for asking smokers to refrain.

Councilmembers also debated whether or not there was really a problem to solve.

“Where is the problem?” Councilmember Mike Cero asked, reminding fellow Councilmembers about the now-defunct proposal to limit parking on the Mercer Ways.

“We already have a littering ordinance,” he said.

The issue of rights came up for people who walk in a park and smoke and might be encountered by children. What to do then?

“We don’t have to worry about the rights of people who smoke,” Grady said.

Councilmember Bertlin and others disagreed and said that they were not willing to criminalize smoking. She suggested making more disposal points available and use other means to educate park users. “I believe that is a smarter way to achieve our objectives,” Bertlin said. “We need to balance intent with practicality.”

After two initial motions were rejected, the Council came up with a plan to use the signs to discourage smoking in parks without an ordinance.


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