Spencer votes to ban smoking, tobacco from parks, ball fields

SPENCER — The Spencer town board voted unanimously Tuesday to ban smoking and other tobacco use from town parks and ball fields, but how the new ordinance will be enforced is not clear.

Aldermen asked town staff to make recommendations about how to enforce the ban but told Spencer Little League volunteer William Noles and Amy Smith, a Rowan County health education specialist, they should go ahead and create signs for Spencer parks. The Rowan County Health Department won an anti-smoking grant that will pay for the signs.

Spencer follows Salisbury as the second Rowan municipality to prohibit cigarettes, cigars and snuff from public parks. They are among more than a dozen cities, towns and counties in North Carolina to take the step.

In Salisbury, park staff enforce the ban, issuing a verbal warning to smokers or tobacco users, followed by a written warning to those who do not comply. As a last resort, the city can fine people who continue to smoke or dip on park property.

Smith said while tobacco has been important for North Carolina’s economy, times are changing, and tobacco use now costs the state $5.9 billion in health problems and lost productivity.

The four leading causes of death in Rowan County — heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease and chronic lower respiratory disease — are all related to smoking, Smith said. The tobacco ban would prevent children’s exposure to secondhand smoke and eliminate cigarette butt litter, she said.

According to a 2010 survey, 73 percent of Rowan County residents said they want smoke-free playgrounds and 79 percent said they do not smoke.

“Parks should be a healthy place for young children,” Smith said.

The Eighth Street Ballpark is one of the town’s greatest treasures and should provide a healthy environment, she said.

Passing an ordinance and putting up new signs will empower people at parks and ball fields to approach others who are smoking or using tobacco and ask them to stop, Smith said.

“We have had no smoking signs before in the grandstand, but they get fairly little attention,” Noles said. “Maybe this would help.”

Alderman Mike Boone said he would like to include electronic cigarettes in the ordinance as well.

Alderman Reid Walters said many people who live in North Carolina are former smokers, himself included.

“All of us can appreciate going to a facility that is smoke-free, especially a park,” Walters said.

The ban will include coaches who use other forms of tobacco, Smith said.

“We need to emphasize to the coaching staff as well,” she said. “When you are at Eighth Street, you are a role model.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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