Father Asks For Smoking Ban In City Parks

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An Athens father has asked Athens City Council to consider banning tobacco usage in public parks — a measure that several Council members support.

Thaden Brient told Council Monday evening that he has observed a lot of cigarette smoking while spending time with his 9-year-old daughter in city parks, particularly at the Southside Park on Dairy Lane.

“I’ve done a lot of research over the past 18 months regarding this issue and I found out that there’s already about 1,000 municipalities across the nation that have smoke-free park laws,” he said. “It’s a very contemporary issue now to begin looking at (banning smoking in) outdoor areas due to second-hand smoke and just public behavior in general.”

Brient pointed out that while the city’s arts, parks and recreation department has had a policy of no smoking in parks, there’s no law on the books. According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, only three municipalities in the state of Ohio have banned smoking in public parks: Strongsville, New Philadelphia, and Sylvania. 

According to Brient, he spent a 32-day period over the summer collecting and counting cigarette butts at Southside Park. He said he initially cleaned up 155 butts from the park and subsequently collected 299 butts from July 25 to Aug. 22.

He said he also picked up 30 butts at Highland Park and 59 butts at the park at the Athens Community Center.

Brient said he focused his study on the Southside Park since it has higher playground traffic. He said that the majority of the cigarette butts he found were concentrated around benches and picnic areas.

Brient estimated — under the assumption that the majority of smokers discard their butts on the ground — that an average of 10-16 cigarettes per day or one cigarette per hour were smoked at the Southside Park during the 32-day period.

“I really believe the city should have an ordinance which basically restricts smoking in the parks,” he said. “It is a contemporary thing that people are doing all across the country. In a few years, I believe Athens will be behind if we don’t do something like that. I think it’s a good time to do it.”

Brient said that the surgeon general's office has reported there is no level of second-hand smoke that doesn’t have a risk — even outdoors. He said he believes children are more susceptible to these negative health affects compared to adults.

“Children are going to associate a good day at the park with maybe observing adults smoking cigarettes and I think that’s a good reason to ban cigarette use in the playgrounds,” he said, adding that parents have told him that their toddlers have picked up cigarette butts and tried to eat them.

Councilman Jeff Risner suggested making parks tobacco free instead of just smoke free. He said this would prohibit chewing tobacco. Brient added that “tobacco free” would also prohibit use of electronic cigarettes. (However, electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, although they may contain nicotine.)

Many Council members expressed support for the endeavor. Councilman Steve Patterson said that now may be a good time to move forward with a tobacco ban in public parks as Ohio University is on track to become a tobacco free campus beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.

Patterson also spoke to the litter issue regarding cigarette butts. He said he instructed volunteers to collect and count cigarette butts in the city during Athens Beautification Day in the spring. He said in just two hours, volunteers collected 4,982 cigarette butts — many of which he said came from the Southside Park area.

“In the future, maybe the whole city of Athens will be outdoor tobacco free,” Brient added.