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Help make Falls parks smoke-free and healthy

I want to thank the City Council members and the mayor for their support of the initiative concerning Niagara Falls parks going smoke-free. I also want to thank the members of this wonderful community who participated in the several focus groups before this policy was written. Your input was very important to the language and structure of the resolution.

Niagara Falls has been designated as a playful city, meaning our parks are clean, lots of children playing in a safe and tobacco-free environment.

Are they really? My goal in drafting this resolution is to make them just that: a place where we can all go and enjoy family and friends, and not be fearful of our kids picking up drug paraphernalia or swallowing a cigarette butt, or even inhaling secondhand smoke and suffering an asthma attack later that night.

Have you ever seen a child gasping for breath? I have, and our children shouldn't have to be exposed to these types of conditions in our parks, where they go to play and enjoy the fresh air, the green grass. Our children deserve the opportunity for longevity, and we as adults should respect and promote that through our behavior in the park.

The purpose for passing such a resolution

*To eliminate the threat of secondhand smoke in our parks because there is no safe level of exposure. It can cause asthma, respiratory infections, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Children should be able to play and exercise in Niagara Falls parks without being exposed to harmful effects of secondhand smoke. This is an asthma trigger especially for children.

*To eliminate tobacco product use in the proximity of children and adults engaging in or watching recreational activities. It is unhealthy and detrimental to the health of both the participants and observers. The circulatory system of a nonsmoker behaves similarly to that of a smoker after just 30 minutes of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

*To reduce litter. Cigarette butts are highly toxic to children and animals when ingested. Our children are always picking things up from the ground. The litter contributes to contaminated soil, waterways, harms or kills living organisms and generally degrades surrounding ecosystems.

The U.S. surgeon general has concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. As a community health advocate, as a Council member, as a grandfather and simply as a person who cares about people and their well-being, I was honored to sponsor this resolution.

Parks are supposed to be places where children and adults can enjoy the fresh air. In Niagara County, 27 percent of the residents smoke, and every day we seem to see more and more young people smoking. Please: No smoking in public places. It's a common courtesy.

As our Department of Public Works begins placing signage in our parks and playgrounds, I ask that you take a good look at the signs. The heart says "breathe easy." Smoking is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease and asthma, please let our children and seniors who visit our parks breathe easy. Then the bottom of the sign says "PLEASE DON'T SMOKE OR LITTER," and all I can add is "PLEASE."

We the citizens of Niagara Falls deserve longevity. We deserve to have parks in which our children can play free of danger and exposure to life-threatening disease. We deserve the opportunity to experience our inalienable rights, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Charles A. Walker


Niagara Falls City Council