Butt out: Northern Kentucky communities move toward smoking bans in local parks

Backers cite example for kids; complaints minimal

COVINGTON, Ky. -- In a state where roughly one-fourth of adults light up and smoking bans are only for state buildings, there's a growing movement to ban smoke and tobacco use in local parks.

It's not just in shelters and restrooms. The ban also covers the open park spaces that most Kentuckians have traditionally claimed as no-holds-barred smoking areas.

It's part of a healthy living initiative in Northern Kentucky. Fort Mitchell, Ludlow and Williamstown have all approved ordinances that ban smoking in parks, and Covington is working on a plan to do the same. In Fort Mitchell and Williamstown, the ban also includes any kind of tobacco -- e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco included.

"Parks are designed to promote healthy living," said Zack Raney, Northern Kentucky Health Department educator for tobacco prevention and cessation.

"It's one of those areas that's a little more challenging because it's outdoor air," said Stephanie Vogel, director of population health.

The community has to be ready to make that step, she said. "Our efforts are are really secondary to the community."

Supporters are clear that the new rules are for the kids and to encourage adults.

"With kids, it's the modeling," said Dan Petronio, co-chair of the LiveWell Covington Coalition and associate director at the Center for Great Neighborhoods. "So much of the work is to prevent kids from even starting."

Newport and Florence also have LiveWell coalitions, but the tobacco ban is not their current focus.

The coalition's tobacco team is driving the initiative for Covington parks, he said.

A public meeting was originally scheduled for July 20, but was postponed by the Northern Kentucky Health Department to complete the presentation.

"We (the coalition) actually got Covington to pass tobacco-free schools, and that was kind of a tough road," Petronio said. "This is just the next step."

It's part of a national trend -- Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York City are among the cities that passed laws in the last six years to block smoking and/or any tobacco product in their parks. Iowa is the only state that bans smoking statewide in parks. It's still OK to smoke or use tobacco outside at parks in Cincinnati.

Fort Mitchell's year-old law has already made a difference in the amount of trash left behind in parks, said Kyle Bennett, Fort Mitchell's parks director. Although not everyone's stopped smoking, there's been a significant reduction in the number of cigarette butts.

Although police do due diligence on patrol, it's likely just the multiple signs that have made a difference, Bennett said. His morning park crews really don't see any smokers.

Complaints appear to be minimal. Bennett said he's not heard of them in Fort Mitchell, and Raney said the health department has not heard any complaints.

Even so, when cities start talking about smoking bans, smokers say laws infringe upon their rights, said Petronio. "But there are huge health care costs in Kentucky. This freedom of choice has costs beyond the individual."

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family services, Medicaid and Medicare costs exceed an annual estimated $1.2 billion for treatment of Kentuckians suffering from smoking-related diseases and conditions.

Across the state, some communities are quietly putting up no-smoking signage in parks without ordinances in place, said Heather Wehrheim, director of advocacy in Kentucky and Tennessee for the American Lung Association. "It's definitely a trend."

"We always push for a community to pass an ordinance first to address inside places, which helps create a social norm," she said.

Area officials say residents are more used to seeing no-smoking signs, so that is helping with local no-smoking projects, including the parks.

No, smokers won't go to jail if they're caught puffing away or chewing tobacco.

"It's self-enforced," said Z. "If a mom is pushing a child on a swing near a smoker, it gives her a bit more support to ask them to stop."

Ludlow's chief of police Scott Smith expects to handle it like any other park problem. "We'll ask them to stop, and if they don't, we have the authority to ban them from the park."

Fines may come if cities are pushed to do so, but in Ludlow at least, offenders are likely looking at $10 to $20, said Smith.

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