by Matt Rosenberg January 24th, 2012
Shoreline plans to roll out an online survey of residents in the first quarter of 2012 to help officials decide if it should join a growing group of Washington jurisdictions which ban use of tobacco products in their parks and sometimes other outdoor public spaces as well. At a city council meeting last night, members considered as a study item a detailed information packet including a city staff memo on the policy-making process and written presentations from King County – which is taking a regional leadership role in promoting smoke-free public parks. A key provision identified by city staff in the packet is that there is no money for extra enforcement. That would depend on hoped-for effects of signage and enforcement by local parks users and any police or parks staff who happened to observe violations while conducting other work tasks.
Shoreline has already adopted its own healthy city strategy called Shoreline4Health. One stated goal is to develop a tobacco free zone in city parks and public spaces. The staff memo at the front of the council information packet recommends the city conduct an online survey at its Web site of local residents to gauge support for smoke-free parks legislation which the council could develop and pass into law. The survey would be during the first three months of this year. It would not be scientifically valid, the memo states, but it would be useful and would have a mechanism to block most people from taking it more than once.
Passive enforcement only
If the city does approve a new law banning smoking in parks and other outdoor publicly-owned spaces then enforcement should be limited to signage and peer pressure according to city policy advisors. The memo states, “staff does not recommend that additional resources be spent on increased police and/or park patrols for this specific regulation and would rely on education and ‘peer to peer’ enforcement as the predominant enforcement mechanism.”
Amidst the 37 pages in the information packet, there is no data or anecdotal information on the degree to which adopted policy, signage and hoped-for peer enforcement have been effective in actually reducing smoking in public parks and other publicly-owned outdoor spaces.
The Scourge Of Butts
A report in the information packet from the Tobacco-Free Parks unit of Public Health Seattle & King County’s U.S. grant-funded program called Communities Putting Prevention To Work states 2,096 cigarette butts were found during volunteer cleanups in Shoreline’s Paramount Park and 1,265 butts in Shoreline’s Hamlin Park. Additional material in the packet from a Tobacco-Free Parks Policy Implementation Guide produced by a related King County program called LetsDoThisKingCounty.org says 480 million cigarette butts are littered in Washington state each year. In the up to 15 years it takes them to decompose they can leach cadmium, arsenic and other poisons into the soil. Discarded cigarette butts are the third most frequent cause of outdoor fires that can be prevented and can also be swallowed by young children, dogs, birds and fish.
Supporters of smoke-free parks in King County also assert benefits include:
Shoreline would be sixth jurisdiction in King County with smoke-free parks
King County officials also stress that county residents have voiced 72 percent support for smoking bans in outdoor public places in a 2007 state survey, and that related bans are in place in 15 Washington counties representing a total of 42 government agencies. In King County, the cities of Auburn, Covington, and Snoqualmie and the the Vashon Island parks district have resolutions, rules or ordinances in place. In November, the city of Burien joined that list. In City of Seattle parks, all tobacco use is barred within 25 feet of other people, play areas and beaches.
Indoor public smoking ban already in effect statewide
In 2005, Washington voters approved a smoking ban in indoor public spaces including bars, taverns and restaurants. Although some opponents had worried the measure would drive business away, a study published by the Centers For Disease Control found that sales tax receipts in these types of establishments actually rose instead.