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Metro Parks Tacoma wants to outlaw smoking in parks

Post by News Tribune Staff on Feb. 27, 2009 at 12:03 pm with No Comments »
February 27, 2009 12:03 pm

There are already signs up in some parks asking people not to smoke.

But they’re only in a few locations, including the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Northwest Trek, the wildlife park near Eatonville. And they’re voluntary requests, lacking the force of law.

Now officials from Metro Parks and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department are asking Tacoma city officials for an outright ban on smoking in all Metro Parks and city parks.

Nancy Davis, Metro Parks’ governmental relations officer, and George Hermosillo, prevention specialist for the health department, met Thursday with the city’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee to make their pitch.

In order to outlaw smoking in parks, the City Council will need to approve a change in Tacoma’s Municipal Code.

Banning smoking in the parks will reduce second-hand smoke and cut down on litter from cigarette butts, officials said. Also, by reducing the number of children exposed to cigarettes and people smoking, it makes it less likely that children will start smoking, according to a document handed out to council members.

A ban on smoking would also continue the health deaprtment’s effort to create smoke-free environments and create “new norms in the community,” Hermosillo said.

Council members reacted with a mix of enthusiasm and concern over the proposal. Councilman Rick Talbert, a health board member, strongly supports the idea.

“We need to do this,” Talbert said.

Councilwoman Marilyn Strickland also said she would support the measure, but noted that she “grappled” with the idea because she generally favors protection of individual rights.

Councilman Mike Lonergan was clearly bothered by the idea. He questioned officials about the potential for “selective enforcement” of the law by police, a possibility that he compared to “broken taillight” traffic stops that police can use when they want to stop someone.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell told Lonergan that police would not use the law as a “pre-text” to confront a park user, but he added that traffic violations such as non-functioning taillights and headlights and speeding that give officers a reason to stop a motorist “often lead to bigger things.”

Lonergan also questioned some of the reasons parks officials cite for the proposal, including a statistic that shows a “majority” of Washington and Pierce County residents do not smoke.

Is it “majority rule, or tyranny of the majority?” Lonergan asked. “We’re saying 20 percent of our population is no longer welcome in our parks.”

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg disagreed, telling Lonergan the law would ban the behavior and not the individuals.

“That’s true,” Lonergan replied.

It’s now up to the City Attorney to come up with a proposed ordinance changing the Municipal Code. A draft of a proposed ordinance is expected to come back to the council committee for further discussion before going to the full council later this spring.

Parks officials hope to have the ban in place by summer.

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