Tobacco-free parks in Greensboro urged

Todd Cohen

Greensboro Parks
Greensboro Parks

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Tobacco is bad for people, studies consistently show, and the Cone Health Foundation wants the city to ban its use from public parks in Greensboro.

Second-hand smoke is the cause of death of nearly 1,700 adult non-smokers in North Carolina each year, for example, and exposure to it generates medical costs in the state totaling an estimated $293 million in 2009.

Second-hand smoke also has been proven to cause heart disease, heart attacks, lung disease, lung cancer and asthma, with the U.S. Surgeon General saying in 2006 there was no safe level of exposure to it.

And 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before age 18.

The Tobacco Free Parks – Greensboro initiative, coordinated by the Cone Health Foundation, asked local residents by May 20 to sign a resolution supporting the ban, and the city was seeking public comment on the issue.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to consider the ban in June.

If recommended, the City Council would consider an ordinance to ban tobacco from the city’s 4,000 acres of public parks.

“We simply believe parks ought to be places where people can enjoy being with their families without having to deal with tobacco,” says Susan Fitzgibbon Shumaker, the foundation’s president.

The foundation, which has the mission of measurably improving the health of people in the Greensboro area, launched the campaign on tobacco-free parks earlier this year.

Addressing the problem of substance abuse, including tobacco, is a priority of the foundation, which in recent years has invested millions of dollars in efforts to prevent and treat substance abuse, and to promote physical activity and build greenways.

The campaign builds on a statewide law that took effect in January 2010 and bans smoking in restaurants and bars.

The law also gives local governments the authority to enact tougher rules on tobacco use.

“That’s a great tool for local communities,” says Sandra Boren, vice president and senior program officer at the Cone Health Foundation. “Prior to the law, that flexibility was not there.”

At least two-dozen municipalities and counties in the state have adopted policies on smoke-free and tobacco-free parks.

The city of Raleigh, for example, recently passed an ordinance to keep city parks smoke-free.

A recent survey released by the North Carolina Alliance for Health found 74 percent of 500 likely voters in the state support the state’s smoke-free law.

And a poll the foundation commissioned this year found 64 percent of 576 registered voters favored making Greensboro’s parks tobacco-free, with 58 percent saying they would be more likely to use the parks if they were tobacco-free.

And when those registered voters were told about some of the dangers of tobacco and second-hand smoke, up to 71 percent said they favored making the city’s parks tobacco-free.

Even brief exposure to second-hand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in children with asthma, for example, while cigarette butts, which are poisonous and toxic to small children and animals, are slow to degrade and are a leading cause of litter, Boren says.

And children often model adult behavior and benefit from positive, healthy, non-smoking behavior, she says.

Shumaker says the campaign for tobacco-free parks reflects a priority of the board for the foundation to take a greater role as an advocate to advance its mission.

“This is about the health of our citizens, the health of our youth, the environment, role-modeling,” says Shumaker. “We’re not telling people they can’t smoke, just not here, not in parks, which are a place children and people go to pursue healthy lifestyles.”

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