City council weighs outlawing tobacco in parks

Vancouver also may ban alcohol except for events

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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A proposed ordinance could snuff out smoking and the use of all tobacco products in Vancouver parks.

Vancouver parks already have voluntary no-smoking zones in some parks, particularly around playgrounds; the ordinance would totally prohibit cigarettes, chew, smokeless cigarettes and any other tobacco products.

The potential code change comes with a slew of updates to the city’s parks ordinances, last updated 40 years ago, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department Director Pete Mayer told the Vancouver City Council on Monday night. Most are housekeeping amendments, but other changes would also include a ban on an open container or consumption of alcohol in parks, with exceptions for permitted events such as the Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival held in Esther Short Park.

The ban on smoking and tobacco represents the most substantial of the new laws, which are being put forward by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.

Second-hand smoke is a known health hazard, even outdoors, and so banning smoking in parks would help protect children and others from being exposed, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer.

“Now that we have a ban on smoking indoors, more people are … moving outdoors to smoke,” Melnick said. “Children frequent parks.”

The city council seemed largely in favor of approving the ban, but said that they want to hear more from the public before moving forward. The ordinance changes are scheduled to go before the city council for a public hearing and potential adoption on Dec. 5. A first reading will be Nov. 28.

“I’m going to call it what it is — a nuisance,” Councilor Bart Hansen said. “I do have a problem with my children inhaling it.”

Vancouver Police Cmdr. George Delgado said that no new police staff will be added to enforce a smoking ban. Rather, if an officer is already in a park, they could issue a citation to those violating the law. “When we’re in a park and notice a violation, we now have clear guidelines,” Delgado said. “We’re supportive of it, we’ll help in any way we can.”

But some councilors did balk at the potential that Vancouver’s parks would have a ban, while Clark County parks may not have the same prohibitions. People don’t often bother to check if the park is within city limits or is part of unincorporated county, Councilor Jack Burkman said.

“If we’re to move ahead, we could have a situation where we have a ban in one park, but not the one across the street,” he said. “Is there a way to link it better?”

Mayer said that the city is scheduled to vote on the ordinances first, and then the same laws will go to the Clark County Board of Commissioners for approval.

Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, who was at Monday’s city council meeting for a presentation, said that the three elected commissioners are aware of the recommended tobacco ban.

“This issue would be enforcement” of the law, Boldt said. “What should probably be done if (Vancouver) comes up with an ordinance is let us see it before they pass it.”

Mayer said smoking bans in parks are “quite prevalent” and have few problems with enforcement. Battle Ground, Lacey and Olympia have bans on smoking in parks, and New York City prohibited smoking in its public parks in the spring. Seattle has a mandatory 25-foot no-smoking zone in some areas in parks, he said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall