County decides against banning tobacco in parks

Restrictions strengthened in some parts of such sites

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: April 25, 2012, 5:18 PM

 

Clark County commissioners decided to strengthen tobacco restrictions in parts of county parks but stopped short of matching the city of Vancouver’s total ban.

The commissioners, serving in their role as the Board of Health, discussed a tobacco ban during a meeting Wednesday. After a presentation, public testimony and discussion, the board supported changing the policy for areas where kids might be present from the current voluntary ban to making them mandatory tobacco-free zones.

In 2005, the county board approved a voluntary tobacco-free compliance program. The county designated certain areas in its parks as “tobacco free.” Those areas include playgrounds and play areas; immediate areas around public restrooms; immediate areas around public events at parks or ball fields (such as concerts and league practices and games); and on public beaches.

The commissioners recommended on Wednesday making those mandatory smoke-free areas, with the exception of public beaches. Only public events on beaches would be required to be smoke-free under the proposed change.

Commissioners Steve Stuart and Tom Mielke voted in favor of the recommended policy change. Commissioner Marc Boldt voted against it, saying he supported banning all tobacco use at the parks.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission and county staff will draft the policy and an ordinance for a public hearing and the commissioners’ approval, likely at a June meeting.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission recommended in February 2010 banning all forms of tobacco use in Clark County and city of Vancouver parks. The Vancouver City Council passed an ordinance banning tobacco at its parks in December.

The Clark County commissioners indicated they would not support a complete ban. So county parks and health officials proposed Wednesday that the commissioners ban tobacco at all neighborhood and community parks, and create designated smoking areas at regional parks.

Mielke questioned the county’s ability to enforce a ban and said he doesn’t want to take away one’s right to smoke in parks.

“We’re unable to protect everyone from everything. So how far do we go?” said Mielke, a self-described “retired smoker.” “I don’t know where we need to go. I don’t think this is it.”

Stuart questioned at what point cigarette smoke dissipates and no longer poses a significant risk to others. Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer, said that depends on conditions such as wind, how long someone is smoking and how many people are smoking. The surgeon general says no secondhand smoke is safe, Melnick added.

A handful of residents — including one with asthma, another with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and an oncology nurse who also has asthma — testified about how secondhand smoke affects their lives. Even the faintest levels of smoke can cause problems, they said.

Without data to show when one’s right to smoke infringes on another’s right to smoke-free air, Stuart said, he can’t support banning a legal substance from parks.

“I can’t do this on anecdotes alone,” he said.

Boldt disagreed with the other commissioners. As the board of health, the commissioners are tasked with protecting the public’s health.

“Unless there’s an outright ban in neighborhood and community parks, I can’t see going any further,” Boldt said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.