County commissioners reluctant to ban smoking in parks

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter


Updated: February 1, 2012, 7:52 PM



Previously: In December, the Vancouver City Council voted to ban all smoking and tobacco use in city parks.

What’s new: On Wednesday, the Board of County Commissioners seemed reluctant to extend the ban to county parks.

What’s next: The commissioners will discuss the topic at a Board of Health meeting, but no date has been set.

The Board of Clark County Commissioners on Wednesday indicated they will not support a ban on smoking in county parks.

The Vancouver City Council voted in December to ban all smoking and tobacco use in city parks and recreation centers.

The three county commissioners, however, said during a work session that they like a 2005 policy that declared outdoor recreation sites as voluntary tobacco-free zones. Signs are posted at designated areas — such as playgrounds and restrooms — but there’s no penalty for lighting up.

Pete Mayer, director of Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation, said the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission recommended a smoking ban in 2010.

As commissioners prepare to update the parks code, it’s a good time to consider the ban, Mayer said.

Mayer, Director of Public Health John Wiesman and Dr. Alan Melnick, the county’s public health officer, gave several reasons to ban smoking in parks. A 2009 survey found that 66 percent of Clark County adults agreed smoking should not be permitted in outdoor public places where children are present, and 98 percent of Clark County adults believe it’s harmful to breathe secondhand smoke.

“When I’m running through the park, I don’t want to run through smoke,” said Wiesman.

“I think people want smoke-free environments, and our kids deserve that,” Wiesman added.

Melnick said this region has a higher rate of people with asthma, and it doesn’t take much smoke to trigger an asthma attack.

The arguments didn’t persuade commissioners.

Commissioner Tom Mielke, who last summer said “the jury is still out” on the danger of secondhand smoke, said telling people they couldn’t smoke in parks was an example of the government overregulation that he hates. He also didn’t want to write a law that would be difficult to enforce.

As for people with asthma, Mielke said some county parks have fire pits and barbecues, so there’s going to be smoke in the air.

What’s next, Mielke asked, regulating what food people can barbecue in parks?

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he won’t infringe on the rights of smokers. If people think smoking is so bad, then lobby to make it illegal. But it’s legal, and he doesn’t want to disenfranchise smokers.

Boldt agreed with Mielke that the county should not write a law that won’t be enforced.

“If we can’t enforce it, we’re not going to enact it,” Boldt said.

Commissioners were told that a ban would likely be policed by the public, as it could embolden people to tell smokers that it’s illegal to smoke.

Under the current voluntary tobacco-free policy, smokers can respond to protesters that it’s a voluntary policy and they are choosing not to comply.

Commissioners did indicate, however, they would be open to banning smoking in special-use parks such as the Luke Jensen Sports Park, which is set to open this year.

There are four types of county parks: neighborhood (the smallest parks), community (larger), regional (largest) and special-use.

Stuart said people watching baseball games should not be subject to secondhand smoke, and it makes sense to ban smoking at ball fields.

But that’s different than telling someone they can’t smoke at, for example, Lewisville Park.

No decisions were made, and commissioners will take up the topic at a future Board of Health meeting.

Violation of parks code can be punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, but last month Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe told the council that’s a maximum fine meant to stop people who egregiously violate policy. He added that “it’s very, very rare to see these kinds of cases put to prosecution.”

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508;;