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Needed: a breath of fresh air

Conversation has started in Granite Quarry about whether the town should go to tobacco-free parks. On the surface, it seems as though that should be an easy decision for aldermen to reach. Parks are supposed to be healthy places for exercise, play and social interaction. Smoking or having to breathe in secondhand smoke doesn’t seem to fit the reason we have parks in the first place.

Still, this kind of proposal always prompts protests of government overreaction or government overreach into the lives and freedoms of private individuals. The argument goes that even though 79 percent of Rowan County residents don’t smoke, more than 20 percent do, and those residents should be able to light up a cigarette, cigar or pipe in the great, wide, open-air spaces of parks.

People have the right — God-given or constitutionally — to smoke anywhere outside, the reasoning continues. First, the Constitution doesn’t mention any rights connected to smoking, and couldn’t you flip that argument around and say everyone has the right to breathe clean air in public places?

Granite Quarry should make its parks tobacco-free, as the municipalities of Salisbury, Spencer, East Spencer and Rockwell already have done.  The time and cost savings alone from not having to clean up cigarette butts should be justification enough for any fiscally minded town board.

But local government also should put a priority on protecting its residents from known health hazards, which smoking and secondhand smoke are. Health officials say the cost of healthcare and lost production in North Carolina due to smoking is $3.81 billion.

The toll smoking is taking on young people in North Carolina is considerable. Some 78,000 high school students are smokers, and there are 8,700 kids under 18 who become new daily smokers each year. Smokers under 18 are buying 16 million packs of cigarettes annually.

What this means is there will be 180,000 people now under 18 who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking in North Carolina. That isn’t acceptable.

The last time we checked, a lot of kids use public parks and playgrounds. Granite Quarry — and Rowan County, for that matter — should set a good example and at least make their parks places to breathe in smoke-free, chemical-free air. At least do it for the kids.

 

 

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