April 12, 2012
King County poised to join local communities that support tobacco-free policies in busiest areas of parks
Signs would prohibit tobacco use in heavily-used areas such as playgrounds, sports fields; compliance voluntary, much like for littering, off-leash dogs, or alcohol in a park
King County would join a growing list of local parks, hospitals and schools with policies for tobacco-free areas under a proposed ordinance sent today to the King County Council to prohibit tobacco use in the busiest areas of the County’s expansive parks system.
“When people come to a public park, they expect to breathe fresh air – not someone else’s cigarettes,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, citing a survey of county residents in which more than 70 percent said they support smoke-free public places, including parks.
The proposed ordinance would mean visitors to County parks could no longer use tobacco in heavily-used park areas such as children’s playgrounds, athletic fields, picnic shelters and trailheads.
Compliance would be voluntary, much like for littering, failure to keep a dog on a leash, or alcohol use in a park; enforcement would occur only when problems are reported. A federal grant will pay for signs denoting tobacco-free areas.
“Our residents want healthy, tobacco-free parks,” said King County Councilmember and King County Board of Health Chair Joe McDermott. “Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and illness in King County, and this ordinance would further expand our smoke-free spaces so children and families can be safe from second-hand smoke.”
Council adoption of the ordinance would align King County with 11 local governments representing more than 1 million residents that have already adopted rules prohibiting or limiting tobacco use in parks. They include Auburn, Black Diamond, Bothell, Burien, Covington, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Seattle, Shoreline, Snoqualmie, and the Vashon Park District. In Washington state, more than 45 cities in 15 counties have smoke-free parks policies, including Tacoma Metro Parks in Pierce County, and Marysville and Lake Stevens in Snohomish County.
A universal “tobacco-free parks” sign has been created for jurisdictions to post in their parks. Each jurisdiction that has adopted or plans to adopt a tobacco- or smoke-free policy will have the opportunity to post this sign as part of the regional partnership for tobacco-free parks. Tobacco-free efforts by local cities and King County are supported by Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a federal grant to address obesity and tobacco use.
Tobacco-free parks are part of a broad movement to create healthy and smoke-free areas, especially for kids and the most vulnerable. In recent months many hospitals, housing providers, and mental health and chemical dependency centers have also gone smoke-free.
In King County alone, tobacco causes almost 2,000 premature deaths and costs over $340 million in medical expenses and lost wages each year. In addition to the health effects, cigarette butts can account for up to 70 percent of litter in public places. Cigarette butts can take up to 15 years to decompose, leaching chemicals into the soil and posing harm to small children and pets if ingested.
“The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Carrie Nyssen, Regional Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific. “Even brief exposure to second-hand smoke can cause an asthma attack in a child, or increase risk of blot clots in healthy adults.”
Nationally, almost 600 jurisdictions have enacted laws that prohibit tobacco use in parks and on beaches, including New York City and Los Angeles County. Among the support from local cities:
- City of Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis: “The City of Auburn is committed to creating a healthy community. The Tobacco-free Park Policy is intended to assist recreational organizations and parents in their efforts to recreate in a tobacco-free environment. It is important that we recognize the effects of first and second-hand smoke and discourage tobacco usage at places where youth are gathered and healthy lifestyle activities are available.”
- City of Black Diamond Mayor Rebecca Olness: “Black Diamond has parks and open spaces that provide healthy recreational opportunities to its citizens. To ensure that these places continue to provide these benefits, limiting smoking makes sense and adds to the healthy experience. Our residents deserve parks where they can exercise and enjoy the natural environment smoke free.”
- City of Burien Mayor Brian Bennett: “We’re proud to have joined other cities in King County in declaring our parks smoke-free. This policy benefits the entire community and is in line with the City’s vision of promoting a healthy environment for people of all ages.”
- City of Covington Mayor Margaret Harto: "Covington established its tobacco-free park ordinance in 2002 because we knew that choosing to be tobacco-free in our parks meant choosing to provide a better quality of life for our citizens. We are proud to join King County’s initiative to bring light to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke in our public places."
- City of Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson: "We believe parks should remain spaces that are focused on health. Having places where kids can go and exercise and enjoy the fresh air is what parks are all about."
- City of Shoreline Mayor Keith McGlashan: “The City of Shoreline has made a commitment to being a Healthy City and has developed a Healthy City Strategy to make it a reality. As part of that effort, the City Council has unanimously approved a measure banning the use of all tobacco products in Shoreline’s parks. Tobacco-free parks help reduce exposure to second-hand smoke for children and families, and also reduces pollution from cigarette butts, which is one of the main sources of litter in public places.”
The King County Parks system is comprised of roughly 200 parks, 175 miles of regional trails, 180 miles of backcountry trails, and more than 26,000 acres of open space.
For more information on CPPW, please visit www.kingcounty.gov/health/cppw and the campaign Let's Do This that encourages residents to get involved in improving the health of their communities.