Smoking ban gets people fired up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2014

SALISBURY — Smokers can no longer light up at city parks and ball fields.
Salisbury City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance banning cigarettes and other tobacco products from the city’s 28 park properties and more than five miles of greenway.
“It’s a no-brainer to eliminate tobacco use from facilities that are designed for healthy living,” resident Mary Arey said during a public hearing.
The ban makes Salisbury one of about a dozen cities and counties in North Carolina to prohibit cigarettes, cigars and snuff from public parks.
While many people supported the proposal from the Salisbury Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, not everyone who spoke thought it was a good idea.
John Burke called the ban “an attack on the freedom of people to do what are basically stupid and unhealthy things.”
Burke, who said he hasn’t smoked in 30 years, said the case against secondhand smoke is overblown and suggested City Council take “a long, hard look at the actual evidence” of dangers from breathing in the air exhaled by a smoker.
He also questioned the cost and manpower to enforce the ordinance and warned council members not to pass an ordinance and then not enforce it, which he said breeds disrespect for the law.
Rather than smoking, the city should tackle issues that pose a greater danger to residents, such as obesity and driving while impaired, Burke said.
“We have enough problems to go around without wasting your time and resources on this problem,” he said.
But Elaine China said smoking in Hurley Park has become a growing problem for the city. Ever since the hospital banned the use of tobacco products, smokers have walked across the street to light up at the entrance to Hurley Park, which is littering the city’s horticultural gem with cigarette butts, said China, a former smoker.
Butts take decades to decompose, she said, and cigarettes contain many disease-carrying organisms that threaten not only human health but plants as well.
“People have the right to be stupid, as one gentleman said, but let them be stupid in their own homes, not in our public places,” China said.
That comment earned applause from Dorothy Partlow in the audience, who also spoke in favor of the ban. She said she works at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, where she has developed asthma because employees are allowed to smoke on the assembly line.
“No one should have to be exposed to secondhand smoke, especially children,” Partlow said.
Nancy Vick argued that the ban was just another example of the government taking away the rights of citizens.
“You cannot dictate to the general public constantly what they should and should not do,” Vick said. “We cannot police everyone.”
While Vick supported no smoking at ballparks, she said banning cigarettes at other parks would violate smokers’ right to use the facilities. Vick said cigarettes are not the only items dirtying parks and named urination and general litter as other problems.
City Council unanimously approved the ban, which Councilwoman Karen Alexander said is intended to protect the health of residents, not extinguish the rights of smokers.
“We’re not taking away the rights of smokers to use the park, they just can’t smoke in the park,” said Alexander, who serves as City Council’s liaison to the parks and rec board.
Alexander and Councilman Pete Kennedy noted the city’s existing air quality problems, which exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems.
“We need to do everything we can and in every way that we can to protect those who are vulnerable,” Alexander said.
The ban will include Civic Center, Halls Gym and Miller Center, where children play, Kennedy said. Just as City Council works to protect residents from crime, members should protect them from health hazards as well, he said.
Councilman Brian Miller said while he laments government’s involvement throughout society, the ban will improve the parks if enforced in a common-sense way.
Writing tickets to smokers at the entrance of Hurley Park would be overkill, Miller said. If someone is violating the ordinance, they will be asked politely to stop, he said.
According to the parks and rec board, park staff would enforce the ban, issuing a verbal warning to smokers, followed by a written warning to those who do not comply. As a last resort, the city would fine people who continue to smoke or dip on park property.
The Health Department won an anti-smoking grant that will pay for signs in every city park.
Mayor Paul Woodson said he guessed that 75 percent of people who see the no-smoking signs will comply.
“Twenty-five percent won’t, and we will have to deal with that,” he said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.