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Editorial: Fresh air and good thinking — tobacco-free parks

Rowan County commissioners’ unanimous vote Monday to ban tobacco products at county parks is a breath of fresh air. If park visitors obey the ban, people will finally be able to breathe easy in all parts of Rowan’s parks — not just the smoke-free zones set aside for children. They should stop finding cigarette butts thrown on the ground, too.

With this vote, commissioners show that Rowan cares about improving quality of life and promoting good health. Smart thinking.

We’ve come a long way since the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report linking cigarettes to lung cancer in 1964. Since then, scientists have confirmed that smoking causes a host of ailments — among them stroke, heart disease, Type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer in just about every part of the body.

The Centers for Disease Control says more than 45 million American adults still smoke, and many of them suffer ill effects. Some 8 million are living with a serious illness caused by smoking, and about 438,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a result of tobacco use.

Healthy Rowan, a coalition of organizations working to improve local health outcomes, was instrumental in advocating for this change in county policy. The ban could not only clear the air of secondhand smoke, it could also nudge smokers closer to giving up a habit that is hurting them and the people around them.

Some credit should also go to local veteran Whitey Harwood, who has waged a one-man crusade through letters to the editor and guest columns in the Post to get “ciga-butts” and other forms of tobacco out of county parks. Commissioners turned down his request for a ban in 2012, but that hardly deterred him. Harwood called out public officials in terms that could be harsh, but his commitment to the cause has always been pure, and he opened the public’s eyes to the absurdity of the situation.

In one column, Harwood imagined a future scene in the Rowan Museum, where the Confederate battle flag was displayed alongside the “ridiculous, conflicting, hideous, different tobacco signs” from Rowan parks:

A group of school kids are in there on a field trip and history lesson.

Little Hillary, the class president, says, “I can’t believe people used to smoke and chew that repulsive tobacco in county parks.”

Big Butch, the class bully, while coughing: “My daddy still smokes, but he hides in the house to do it.”

Level-headed Larry Lee — raised as a free-thinker in a smoke-free environment: “I’m just trying to figure out what kind of people was running Rowan County in the year 2015.”

The people running Rowan County in 2018 are not much different than they were in 2015, but commissioners have finally taken to heart the message Healthy Rowan, health care leaders and Harwood have espoused for years. Keep our park air clean. Smokers can smoke in their homes, but not in precious public space set aside for enjoying the great outdoors.

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