More no-smoking zones?
CHAMPAIGN — There's nothing like a little fun and fresh air at your local park, but maybe the air isn't always as fresh as you think.
While smoking isn't allowed inside park buildings or within 15 feet of their entrances, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District says smokers are free to light up at most outdoor areas of local parks and it is asking park officials in Champaign, Urbana, Mahomet, Rantoul, Savoy and the Champaign County Forest Preserve to consider imposing voluntary smoking bans.
In Champaign-Urbana, the only two parks that are entirely smoke-free are the two dog parks. Both districts also forbid smoking around outdoor swimming pools and in ball field dugouts.
Nikki Hillier, the public health district's health and wellness program coordinator, says there are good reasons for extending smoking prohibitions throughout the parks, even outdoors.
For one thing, she says, it's a chance to model healthy behavior for kids, and for another, "we want everybody to be able to enjoy parks."
Second-hand smoke — a mixture of the smoke from burning tobacco products and the smoke exhaled by smokers — affects people who are around smokers, she says, and many parks in Illinois and elsewhere in the U.S. have already gone smoke-free.
The American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation has a list of 921 municipalities that have smoke-free parks, and says the entire state of Oklahoma requires parks to be smoke-free.
Smoking also generates a litter problem in parks, Hillier says, and it's more than a nuisance.
"Not only is it the bulk of litter we see, but it's that birds, animals, even kids will pick stuff up," she says.
Smoking litter and its hazard to dogs is largely why there's a smoking prohibition at Urbana's dog park.
"We don't want people dropping butts out there that dogs can eat," says park district Executive Director Tim Bartlett.
Rantoul Recreation Department Superintendent Luke Humphrey says nobody has complained about smoking in outdoor areas of Rantoul parks in the past year, but smoking was banned in the bleachers and dugout of Wabash Park after people complained about smoking in the bleachers.
"We were trying to create an atmosphere that was enjoyable for all our participants," he says.
The Champaign Park District hasn't made a decision about widening its smoking restrictions, says Megan Kuhlenschmidt, that district's director of recreation.
"We are aware of the (public health) initiative and obviously we are an organization that supports health and wellness in the community, so it's something that we're considering," she says.
Champaign County Forest Preserve Executive Director Dan Olson says the forest preserve follows what the law requires on smoking restrictions, and also forbids smoking at its open air pavilions and playground structures.
The idea of expanding smoking restrictions to more park ground is something relatively new to the forest preserve, he says.
"We're asking other park districts how it's going for them," he says.
But, Olson also says, in his dozen years with the forest preserve, smoking has never been an issue on outdoor grounds.
"We haven't had a problem or any issues with smoking. Most everybody abides by the law," he says.
Bartlett also says a full or partial smoking ban at Urbana parks will require discussion and more research into such issues as how well such bans have worked in other park districts.
Both Bartlett and Humphrey acknowledge litter is a problem, but they question how a smoking ban in outdoor park areas would be enforced — and by what agency.
"I don't think that just posting a sign is going to change people's behavior," Bartlett says.
Hillier says she assumes parks would enforce smoking bans like any other violations, such as parking and alcohol.
Education would be an important part of smoking bans, and the community would need to know the parks were smoke-free through signs and an education campaign, she says.
One area the Urbana Park District has specifically posted as no-smoking is the labyrinth at Crystal Lake Park. That's where smoking Carle patients, visitors and staff wound up congregating to light up after the entire Carle campus went smoke-free, Bartlett says.
"I've seen patients sitting over there in wheelchairs with IVs, sitting over there smoking," he says.