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Smoking Ban to Help 'Young Lungs At Play'

Borough Manager Timi Kirchner suggested the parks and recreation committee move forward in recommending a smoking ban at places where young children play in Lansdale. A boroughwide smoking ban - that's more complicated

By next month, the Lansdale Parks and Recreation Committee is expected to make a recommendation to borough council to snuff out tobacco products at playgrounds, pools, and anywhere else where young children congregate for activities.

A boroughwide smoking ban - - is much more complicated and will take more time.

What the borough wants to avoid is the bad that can come in doing good — the backlash from smokers who have a legal right to use tobacco products.

Or, as borough Manager Timi Kirchner put it Wednesday night to the parks and recreation and administration and finance committees, unintended consequences.

"You intend to do good and it creates a lot of other problems," Kirchner said. "This has to be a very deliberate process."

The bottom line is the posting of signs, the drafting of two ordinances (one for playground and pool smoking bans and another for everywhere else that the borough owns) and enforcement will cost money.

Kirchner told the administration and finance committee that she and parks and recreation director Carl Saldutti need to analyze all those factors. They will return next month to the committee with a list of youth activity areas in Lansdale to aid in making a recommendation at the October meeting.

In the meantime, as suggested by council President Matt West, a more simpler and gentler approach are posting signs that simply state, "Please Be Courteous. Think Before You Smoke."

"That is a message to smokers that, before they enter an area, they need to look around and see that other people are there that are not smoking," Kirchner said. "That's not treating smokers like criminals, but it's saying to them, 'Please don't share your secondhand smoke with other people.' It puts it on them instead of an enforcement officer."

West, who sits on the administration and finance committee, said he began to think about enforcement after a resident at last month's meeting asked about that issue. 

West said the signage would also put the responsibility on the end user. 

"It seems like a huge task to go and put up signs and there's a huge cost in enforcement. Why not do a simpler approach?" he said. "(Signage) can be posted on all borough property and entrance to all parks."

Kirchner called a potential smoking ban "monumental," as the borough would be making signficant restrictions on all lands and properties owned by Lansdale, which includes outside borough hall.

Kirchner told the parks and recreation committee that the initial idea of banning smoking in playgrounds and pool was "very reasonable and doable."

"To me, it's a no-brainer," she said. "There are young children at play."

To aid the borough's efforts, Saldutti has been talking with the Clean Air Council of Philadelphia and the state Department of Health.

The state offers a program called "Young Lungs At Play" that helps target places where children play as tobacco-free zones.

"They are willing to work with the borough to provide us guidance in going forward. But, based on initial research, the areas that are targeted are your playgrounds and pools where you do have younglings at play," Kirchner said. 

Kirchner said parks and recreation was going in the right direction with the playgrounds and pools smoking ban.

"I recommend to the committee that you move forward with that piece because that's where you started," Kirchner said. "Playgrounds and pools are where our children really do congregate. You've done your due diligence there. Move forward and let us look at the approach relative to the entire borough and how we want to do that."

It wasn't that simple, however. Both councilman Rich DiGregorio and Steven Malagari, who sit on the parks and recreation committee, questioned specifity of areas where children play. 

"Would you define a playground as a ballfield?" asked Malagari. 

Saldutti said any area could be incorporated into the ordinance, such as athletic fields and parks where youth gather daily.

"It's up the committee and council to decide how far reaching they would like this to go," Saldutti said. He said other municipalities, for instance, either have no smoking ban on the books or outlaw smoking on playgrounds and fields.

"Montgomery Township does address smoking, but it only puts the onus on the smoker if there should be a problem," Saldutti said.

He said the Department of Health would make signage available to the borough. 

"They said if we do playgrounds, it's moving in the right direction. It's a start," Saldutti said. "If we want to expand, we can certainly expand and be more specific and add facilities and locations and do it parkwide."

DiGregorio made a strong case that parks should be promoting health and wellness. He preferred smokers smoke on their own properties versus a park, street or another residential property.

", the Cannoneers police themselves. They forbid smoking, so people go on the street," DiGregorio said.

Kirchner said a solution like that wasn't feasible.

"Think about the neighbors," she said. "We have public properties that people congregate on all the time. Again, the law of unintended consequences. Think about what we are doing to the neighbors in and around those parks. If people cannot smoke in parks, where do they go? Across the street and now that residential neighborhood suddenly there's butts on private property." 

Kirchner said the "Young Lungs At Play" theme helps put an ordinance on the books and makes a good start for the borough.

The cost issue, she said, is one for administration and finance. Things like designated smoking areas require creation, implementation of special ashtrays, and maintainance, and are often vandalized, requiring cleanup.

Enforcement, too, is a money issue as much as a manpower issue.

"How far do  we push our own people, as far as enforcement, and how much time is that taking away from the regular dutis we would like them to be working on?" she said. "We've only begun to scratch below the surface." 

Analysis will look at public parks like Railroad Plaza and places like the entranceway to borough hall.

"We want to promote a healthy environment. We want to be reasonable and don’t want to spend money and not have a good result," Kirchner said. "This is going to cost money, whether it's putting up signs, enforcement, putting ordinances in place."

Kirchner told administration and finance that there's no economy of scale in doing the ban, relative to legal costs. It's two issues that require two ordinances.

Administration and Finance Committee Chairman Dan Dunigan said a sign that says "No Smoking" won't "prevent a guy from smoking as he’s strolling through the back of White's Road Park at 7:30 as the sun goes down."

"The idea of curtailing it and confining it to the parks and fields and those places where we are encouraging youth to be and congregate in, what should be, healthy-driven activities makes a lot of sense," Dunigan said. "It's far more enforceable — not necessarily by the police — by the moms and dads and guardians that are then when someone comes up and chooses to smoke in the playground."

Dunigan said the big thing is that it's currently legal to smoke, even if there are those who disapprove of it.

"I like the whole concept. Let's keep it at that. Whatever we need to do to advance that, I clearly agree," he said.

Kirchner said the discussions would continue with both committees at next month's meeting.

"We will be coming back with a lot more information based on a lot more research done by the chief, Carl and me on other municipalties, and working with the statewide organization," Kirchner said. "We have to find how to best approach this so it is effective without being a burden to the borough relative to cost and enforcement."

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patchifier September 07, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I think they're worrying a little too much about enforcement. Like any rule at a park in a small town, there's no way to enforce it all the time, and most of the enforcement comes from the other users. Now, if the person is belligerent about it, police can always be called in - and of course if an officer happens to notice the offense they have the responsibility to at least say something to the offender as long as there isn't a more urgent event in progress. All the same though, it's impractical to have anyone stationed at every park 24/7 to guard the rules. What really matters is to pass the law, post the signs, and then if you do designate smoking areas, provide for disposal at those locations. Most people will self police, and most of the rest will at least take a moment to look around and possibly change course before lighting up. Also, signs at the park entrances are great - but don't forget tiny no smoking signs on benches, in pavilions/gazebos, and anywhere else people might sit, too.

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