Signs designating portions of city’s parks and recreation areas as tobacco-free zones could be erected as early as November if the City Council approves a proposed resolution. The city’s Recreation Commission on Tuesday heard from proponents of such a resolution, but held off taking action until another meeting can be held with city officials to discuss the proposed signs.
The commission’s chairman, Richard Yemm, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting and other commission members wanted him or another representative to attend the meeting being set up by Recreation Director Rob Slezak.
The commission is expected to consider whether to make a recommendation to the City Council after that meeting. If a resolution establishing the tobacco-free zones is approved by the council in October, City Manager Jim O’Connor said he would like to have the signs installed in November. The Department of Health will pay for the signs created by the city.
O’Connor said the city administration is proposing a resolution rather than an ordinance. An ordinance would make smoking or otherwise using tobacco in the zones illegal, while a resolution would merely establish the bans in these zones as city policy.
Still, Mary Burkins of the Substance Abuse Council said most people will self-enforce the policy once the signs are put up. City Councilwoman Tracy Carroll added that policing by children who see the signs and as a result tell their parents or other adults not to smoke Richmond cigarettes also can be effective.
Exactly where the signs would be located has yet to be determined.
Recreation Commission member Dan Stanley, while generally opposed to smoking, did not want to make the policy so restrictive that a person walking along the beach at night could not smoke. Recreation Commission member Debbie-Kay Whitehouse said there are a lot of tourists using the beach and indicated she was not in favor of prohibiting smoking there.
It was also mentioned that people going to Riverside Theatre, which is in Riverside Park, might step outside and have a smoke. Burkins suggested a survey could be done to see where children tend to congregate and signs could be posted at these locations. Whitehouse mentioned playground areas as a place where the tobacco-free zones should be established.
According to Burkins, when children see smoking going on in family-friendly places like parks they think it is acceptable behavior. She said almost 90 percent of smokers started before they were 18 and there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
Burkins added that cigarette butts are the most common form of litter and can especially be a problem when discarded at beaches where children can find them and put them in their mouths. She said the cigarette filters can take up to 10 years to decompose and it was noted that the cigarette butts can present a choking hazards to children, pets and wildlife.