Jackson County ponders tobacco ban in public parks
Don’t light, chew, smoke or spit that tobacco in Jackson County parks, and if you do, you could be slapped with a $50 fine. That is the gist of a proposed law that will soon be voted on by county commissioners.
The county health department is pushing the ordinance that would ban the use of all tobacco products from the county’s parks and recreation grounds. The goal is to the reduce secondhand smoke from cigarettes that wafts through the air — and hopefully deter tobacco users from partaking in the harmful habit.
“As a public health agency we’re always trying to encourage people to stop using tobacco products,” said Anna Lippard, health education specialists with the county health department. “And there’s no safe amount of secondhand smoke.”
The drafted ordinance is being reviewed by the county attorney and may be taken up by commissioners as soon as mid-April. The law is a longtime coming, said Lippard. The last rules to be passed restricting smoking on county grounds was a 1993 ordinance that prohibits smoking inside county buildings.
Lippard eventually wanted to ban tobacco use on all county property, not just parks and recreation spaces. Tobacco use is already banned within 50 feet of the county health department building.
“My goal would be to approach that at some point,” Lippard said. “But I think we’d like to take small steps to make that goal.”
Macon County already bans on tobacco use on its parks and rec grounds as does Haywood County.
If passed, the ordinance would restrict tobacco use at eight or so county recreation parks and facilities, including a campground near Glenville, the grounds of the Cullowhee and Cashiers recreation centers and East Laporte Park. If someone is caught violating the rule, parks and recreation staff would first ask for that person to stop using the tobacco, and if the situation escalates, call the sheriff’s office. An offense comes with the potential for a $50 fine.
Lippard claims that the rules have the support of the public. According to a recent phone survey in Jackson County, conducted by an outside agency, more than 60 percent of residents supported tobacco free parks and public walking and biking trails. And nearly 80 percent were in support of tobacco free government buildings and grounds.
Lippard said the initiative seems to have the necessary support from the commissioners based on the response she got after presenting the proposal to the county.
“Nobody seemed to have any issues. We all know that smoking is bad for us,” she said.
The ban has the unanimous approval from the parks and recreation advisory committee and Jeff Carpenter, the county’s parks and recreation director. Carpenter said prohibiting cigarettes will reduce the tobacco chew stains on the walkways and copious amounts of cigarette butts littered in the parks.
“If you mow over a cigarette butt it turns into a 1,000 pieces,” Carpenter said. “People don’t throw away cigarette butts; they put them on the ground.”