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City's smoking ban will kick butts out of its parks

Nora Galley and her classmates at Mount Mercy Academy in South Buffalo have spent a lot of time in Cazenovia Park this summer, where cigarette butts marred the scenery and cigarette smoke polluted the air because people were allowed to light up freely in Buffalo’s public parks.

They won't have to worry about that anymore.

On Tuesday, Galley and other tobacco-free advocates received some good news: The Common Council unanimously voted to ban smoking in the city's public parks, except where designated.

Galley couldn’t be happier.

“Now we can all enjoy parks with cleaner air without toxic cigarette butts. Plus, this policy means that less kids in my generation will even start smoking in Cazenovia Park and beyond. It will encourage adults to reduce their tobacco use and build a healthier Buffalo overall,” said Galley, a senior and a youth advocate for Tobacco-Free Erie-Niagara at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

At the cancer institute, almost one in three patients are there because of tobacco, according to Mark Travers, a Roswell Park research scientist.

Travers called the council vote a huge leap forward in combating the biggest health threat to youth today: tobacco use.

“I’m even more excited about this measure as a parent,” he said. “I’m excited we will have safe, clean environments for ourselves and our children to play in. We know that cigarette butts are a nuisance and eyesore, but more importantly ... cigarette smoke is a deadly killer, and this measure will really help eliminate that threat of secondhand smoke exposure in our parks; will help the environment by eliminating the most common toxic waste that is put into our environment; and it’ll even help smokers in our community.

"We know that smokers that live in smoke-free environments, that work in smoke-free environments have an easier time choosing health and choosing to quit smoking.”

In banning smoking in Cazenovia, Delaware, South, Martin Luther King Jr. and the rest of its parks, the city is following the lead of Erie County, which went smoke-free in its parks and beaches in 2012.

The city legislation will go to Mayor Byron W. Brown for his approval. It takes effect as soon as he signs it. Violators will be subject to fines ranging from $50 to $500.

Darius G. Pridgen, the council's president who spearheaded the resolution, said he was not even aware until Roswell Park brought it to his attention that the City of Buffalo does not have a policy about smoking in the parks.

Pridgen, who has been public about his battles with lung disease, has never been a smoker, yet he lost half of a lung through several operations because of what is known as "smokers disease."

“So this is a personal battle, but it is also a battle for my children, for other people’s children, adults, seniors, anybody who does not desire to partake in second-hand smoke,” he said. “Our parks are for recreation, enjoyment and health.”

The legislation, which also applies to pipes, cigars and e-cigarettes, does allow smoking in designated areas that are away from children and people who choose not to smoke, Pridgen said. Those designated areas will be set by the city’s public works department; signs will be installed to let people know the areas where they can and cannot smoke.

Prior to tickets being written for violators, Pridgen said he will advocate that there be a grace period — or “education period” — to give everyone a chance to learn about the new law.

“I can’t guarantee that, but I would certainly encourage there be an education period first,” he said.

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