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Bellingham council bans smoking in city parks, trails

Signs at a Charlotte, N.C., park let visitors know about a smoking ban. Bellingham City Council voted Monday, Nov. 9, to ban smoking in city parks, trails and open spaces.
Signs at a Charlotte, N.C., park let visitors know about a smoking ban. Bellingham City Council voted Monday, Nov. 9, to ban smoking in city parks, trails and open spaces. The Charlotte Observer

Lighting up electronically or the old-fashioned way will be more limited under a new smoking ban.

Smoking a traditional cigarette or cigar or vaping using an e-cigarette will no longer be allowed in any city park, trail or open space following a City Council decision Monday night, Nov. 9. The council will need to take a third and final vote on the rule before it takes effect.

City Council passed the ban 6 to 1, with council member Terry Bornemann opposed due to the broad scope of the ordinance. He said he would be OK with smoking bans around playgrounds, but the council passed the ordinance as is, covering all public park space.

The ban doesn’t include city sidewalks, alleys or streets, many of which still could fall under the state’s ban on smoking within 25 feet of the doors and windows of public places or businesses.

Smoking already was banned inside city buildings.

Background

Council member Jack Weiss, who introduced the idea of the ban, argued for the importance of the rule by citing public health concerns in a Monday afternoon committee meeting.

“I think it’s fairly clear what the health hazards of secondhand smoke are,” Weiss said.

The ordinance points to the U.S. Surgeon General’s conclusion “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” and states that “secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 41,300 heart disease-related and lung cancer-related deaths among adult nonsmokers each year in the United States.”

Monday afternoon Weiss addressed concerns, including that the city might be over-regulating activities and enforcement might be difficult or nonexistent.

He read off a list of activities you are not allowed to do in city parks: litter, drive on trails or off pavement, camp, have campfires, sell things, post signs, drink alcohol, smoke weed, have sex, be in the park after hours, have a dog off a leash (except in designated areas), and the list goes on.

“There’s a list of things we do prohibit and there’s really good reasons why those things are prohibited, but none of them have anything to do with the health of people in the parks,” Weiss said in a Tuesday interview. “Here’s something that can really affect the health of people in the parks.”

I think the community is very well-grounded in its ability to police itself.

Jack Weiss, Bellingham City Council member

During the afternoon committee meeting, Bellingham Police Chief Cliff Cook weighed in on the potential for the ban to be enforced.

“This would be a very low priority issue for my department,” Cook said. “We don’t have the kind of personnel to do patrolling on trails and in parks to enforce it.”

Cook said there are many activities the city code bans but his department does not enforce. The ones they do — drinking in public, urinating or defecating in public — don’t involve any follow up.

“They are infractions, we can’t make an arrest,” Cook said. “There is no follow up to someone who receives many citations and chooses to ignore those.”

Weiss said the rule was meant to be enforced by peers.

“If somebody were to light up a cigarette (in council chambers) we could go ask them to stop,” Weiss said. “Quite honestly the number of times somebody is going to go ignore another citizen saying please don’t smoke in the park is going to be a pretty rare thing.”

At the evening meeting, Weiss proposed including a caveat — the council would re-evaluate the ban at the end of 2016 to see how it had worked and whether it used police time. The council approved that change before passing the rule.

In regards\ to littered cigarette butts being a nuisance, Weiss said Tuesday that cutting off the activity should help address the problem.

“If you’re not allowed to smoke on the grounds, you’re not going to be littering on the grounds either,” Weiss said. “It’s the same reason we passed the plastic bag ordinance. ... Same thing with the fireworks ban. There was litter all over the street on July 5 until the ban went into effect. You stop the litter at the source.”

Notifying people

Signs will be posted in the areas smoking won’t be allowed.

Before Monday night’s vote, Bornemann questioned how many signs might be required, since the ordinance calls for them to be placed at all the entrances to city parks and trails.

“We’re creating something but we’re not saying how we’re going to do it,” Bornemann said.

In an interview Tuesday, Weiss said he didn’t think the cost would be a concern. Weiss said he recalled that the aluminum signs for Greenways trails cost something like 25 cents apiece.

“I would imagine the signs would be like the international circle with a slash through it,” he said. “They’ll be very small.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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