Restrictions begin March 1 in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County isn’t the first local government in the area to consider making its parks tobacco-free.
Two of the three surrounding counties that manage their own parks already have a ban in place.
And last month, the city of Kannapolis adopted its own policy, which goes into effect March 1.
Gary Mills, director of parks and recreation, said that gives the city time to put up signs and let people know they can no longer use tobacco products in city parks.
“We’re hoping that patrons will police themselves… and even though they might want to smoke, we hope that they’ll respect the ordinance at the park facilities,” Mills said. “If not, the staff will politely address them.’”
So far, no other Rowan County municipality has chosen to prohibit smoking in its parks.
Kannapolis, which sits on the boundary of Rowan and Cabarrus counties, joined Cabarrus’ county-wide effort last year to make parks tobacco free.
That county’s policy went into effect July 1 of last year, and the city of Concord and the town of Huntersville adopted the same ban.
Mills said secondhand smoke can still affect people’s health in crowded spaces outdoors, and tobacco can make the parks a bit messy.
Cabarrus Parks Director Londa Strong said a group went out to county parks one Monday and picked up 250 cigarette butts — most of them on the ground around childrens’ playground areas.
She said has heard from two or three people who said they’re not coming back to the parks because of the ban, but most comments she has received are thankful.
“Overall, we have had a great response,” she said. “We were really anticipating a tough battle, because it is all tobacco products, not just cigarettes.”
Cabarrus park staff have so far avoided giving citations, which come with a fine of up to $50, Strong said. When guests are given a verbal warning, they usually apologize and say they didn’t know.
“We don’t have our park rangers out looking for people smoking,” Strong said. “When we see people, we have done up to this point is just ask them not to smoke and tell them why.’”
Iredell County Parks and Recreation Director Robert Woody said he does have concerns about enforcement of this kind of ban. Iredell doesn’t currently have a tobacco policy for its parks.
“We feel like it would be a great idea,” Woody said. “We already have no smoking inside all county buildings. But parks are so hard to regulate, because they’re outside.”
In Davidson County, the use of tobacco products has been prohibited in county parks for several years.
Charles Parnell, Davidson parks director, says the parks use the same policy as the county school system, and while one or two people “got confrontational,” most have said they’re glad.
Parnell said staff members focus on keeping tobacco use out of play areas, ball fields and other high-traffic places.
“We don’t really have a problem enforcing it around where people are,” Parnell said. “We do not try to enforce it out in the parking lot areas.”
Parks in Davie and Stanly counties are all maintained by municipalities or the state, officials said. There are no county-wide policies regulating tobacco use in those parks.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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