County to discuss banning all tobacco products in parks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Should cigarettes and dip be allowed next to county playgrounds and picnic tables?
Local residents can share their thoughts on that question during a public hearing Monday for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
At their 6 p.m. meeting, county commissioners will consider a proposed policy that would ban the use of tobacco products in all county-owned public parks.
According to County Manager Gary Page, the ordinance was requested by someone who frequents the parks and “feels the ban on tobacco is justified by the harm these products cause public health.”
It’s not worries about secondhand smoke in the open air, but because of the mess tobacco users can leave behind that bothers some others.
Scarlett Johns, of Salisbury, said Wednesday she approves of the ban for just that reason. Johns said her 1-year-old daughter finds cigarette butts on the ground outside and tries eat them. Her 2-year-old son imitates smokers, she said, by putting their discarded cigarettes up to his mouth.
“If people would pick up their cigarette butts and put them somewhere, instead of leaving them on the ground, it wouldn’t bother me,” she said. “But they’re never going to stop doing that, so you might as well ban it.”
Johns visited Dan Nicholas Park on Wednesday afternoon with the two children and her fiance, Shannon Phillips.
Phillips said he quit smoking eight months ago after 22 years of the habit. He thinks there should be a designated area for people to use tobacco products, but they shouldn’t be allowed throughout the park.
“I get offended when somebody sits on a bench smoking close by, and the smoke is coming over to the kids,” he said.
• • •
Smoking isn’t allowed in the playgrounds and rides at Dan Nicholas Park now, but people can light up freely just outside them. The restriction does not apply to chewing tobacco or snuff, which would be banned under the new rules.
If the ban is approved, park staff or law enforcement officials would first give violators a verbal warning. People who continue to use tobacco could face a fine of up to $50.
Employees who violate the ban would be “subject to disciplinary action consistent with the county’s human resources policies.”
Don Bringle, director of the Rowan County Parks and Recreation Department, said enforcing the policy could be difficult, but putting up signs in the parks should help raise public awareness of the ban.
“In our tobacco policy within Rowan County parks, we already have designated areas where tobacco use is not allowed,” Bringle said. “With the new proposal of tobacco-free parks … if it is approved, then we will follow through with that policy and start enforcement of it.”
• • •
Cassie Witherspoon, a Davidson County resident, said she thinks the ban could keep visitors who smoke from coming to Rowan County parks.
Witherspoon occasionally takes her son to Dan Nicholas Park, saying she crosses the county line because “this is the best park ever.”
On Wednesday, she sat on a nearby bench to have a cigarette while watching her 4-year-old child explore the playground.
“I don’t think (tobacco use) should be banned, as long as you don’t throw your cigarettes on the ground,” she said. “We’re out in the open air anyway.”
Witherspoon said she avoids smoking around children who have asthma or other breathing problems. Otherwise, she said, she doesn’t think smoking 20 feet away is any more unhealthy than car exhaust from the parking lot.
“There’s a lot of smokers in today’s world,” she said. “And this is a place for everybody to come. The government shouldn’t stop us from coming here and getting exercise outdoors.”
But other smokers visiting Dan Nicholas said they wouldn’t mind the ban.
China Grove resident Chris Upright said he actually likes the idea. Before walking into the park on Wednesday afternoon, he stopped in the parking lot to finish his cigarette.
Upright wants to quit someday, he said. For now, he’s careful about where he smokes – and who is nearby.
“Kids play out here,” Upright said. “I try to be respectful about it if there’s kids around.”
• • •
At their Jan. 17 meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 to ask planning staff to create a draft policy.
“I don’t want to infringe on people’s rights, and they do have a right to smoke,” said Commissioner Carl Ford. “But it’s legal to drink alcohol, and we don’t allow that on our property.”
Ford said the ban would address the problem of cigarette butts, spit and “chew wads” found throughout the parks.
Ford and Commissioners Jim Sides and Jon Barber agreed to create the policy, while Commissioners Raymond Coltrain and Chad Mitchell did not.
Coltrain said the county’s parks advisory board already decided that such a ban wasn’t necessary on top of the current restrictions.
“I do not smoke,” he said. “But if the person next to me chooses to do so, as long as he doesn’t force results of his actions on me, I’ve got to respect that.”
Mitchell simply said he doesn’t see the need for a new policy because he hasn’t heard any complaints.

Other smoking policies in Rowan County
Kannapolis: An ordinance adopted in January prohibits smoking and use of tobacco products effective this March.
Salisbury: A policy that went into effect in January prohibits smoking and use of tobacco products in all city facilities and vehicles, although city manager may designate smoking areas.
Faith: A 1993 policy prohibits smoking in municipal buildings and vehicles. Offenders are subject to a $25 fine.
Rowan County: New policy prohibits smoking and use of smokeless tobacco products in county buildings, in county vehicles and on any county owned or leased properties designated as smoke free.
Rowan County departments of health and social services: A policy effective July 2011 prohibits employees, clients, contractors or visitors from using tobacco products in buildings, on the campus of both departments and in county vehicles.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools: A policy from 1998 prohibits use of tobacco on any school property, during field trips or during school sponsored activities. It is applicable to employees.
Information provided by the Rowan County Planning Department.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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