LOCKPORT – Students from North Park Junior High School joined officials from the Niagara County Health Department and Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Wednesday in urging the city to ban smoking in its parks.
The Common Council decided to vote on that policy next week.
“I’ve worked to get smoking out of parks. I’ve been with the department for 19 years,” county Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said. “I never thought it would be controversial, but I’m surprised every single day.”
When he pushed to have the county parks posted against smoking, “I had people following me to my car to be against it at Legislature meetings. There were people with sandwich boards saying, ‘Don’t take away my right to smoke,’ ” he recalled.
Wendi Koch, an English teacher at North Park, said the students gathered 242 petition signatures from students, teachers and parents in favor of making the city parks smoke-free. Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Niagara Falls already has done so.
Koch said, “My dad used to crush his cigarette butt at Tops while he was ordering his Krakus ham. It was considered normal. It would be great if these kids could grow up in a world where it’s not normal.”
Stapleton said he envisions the policy as applying to all “nicotine-emitting devices,” including e-cigarettes.
“I’m not talking about chew,” he said. Although he called chewing tobacco “horrible,” he said it’s hard to show that it harms the health of bystanders.
McCaffrey said “voluntary compliance” will be sought. “We’re encouraging it, we’re going to post signs, but there’s not going to be an enforcement component,” she said. “If your child is on a swing set, you shouldn’t be smoking around other kids. … The real areas we’re focused on would be the play areas, the recreation areas.”
“Parks are public places, but mostly they’re full of kids,” said Heather Chatt, a North Park eighth-grader. “Smoking should end in this generation.”
Riley Schmitt, another eighth-grader, said, “When people smoke at parks, it shows kids that it’s cool or OK.”
Koch said North Park students went to clean up cigarette butts in Outwater Park, the city’s largest park, which is near the school, and found that the park was full of them.
Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, worried about unintended consequences. “If someone goes outside the park to smoke, will they leave their children unsupervised?” he asked. He suggested a designated smoking area, but McCaffrey said that it would be difficult to decide on one for each of the city’s 27 parks.
Stapleton said he thinks that about half the people will obey a sign against smoking. McCaffrey said, “You might not get 100 percent, but if we get 50, 60 or 70 percent, it’s better than we had in the past.”