Cedar Rapids group pushing for nicotine-free parks

Residents plant flags at Daniels Park to raise awareness of tobacco pollution

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Eyeing a cigarette butt in the wet mulch of the Daniels Park playground, Sandy Grimm kneels and sinks a small, red flag into the earth.

Grimm, a pulmonary clinical nurse specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, is on a mission — as part of a group of concerned citizens — to make the city’s parks nicotine free.

“The health of our community is very important to me,” said Grimm, who joined about 10 others on Friday afternoon to dot Daniels Park with flags marking “nicotine pollution,” like cigarette butts, chewing tobacco cans and spit cups. “Nicotine and tobacco does not dissolve naturally into our ecosystem. Our kids need to be protected.

“Our community needs to be protected.”

Within 30 minutes of starting in Daniels Park, 940 Oakland Rd. NE, the group had already placed several dozen flags as part of an effort to catch the attention of city officials regarding the idea of implementing nicotine free parks.

“Most people don’t realize how much tobacco waste is around,” said Curt Wheeler, a certified prevention specialist with the Area Substance Abuse Council. “The goal of (nicotine free parks) is to provide a healthy area that youth and families can go and not have any health risks — go and enjoy a clean environment. Hopefully we provide a better, positive example for our youth.”

Daniels Park was chosen for flagging because it contains a playground, splash pad and pavilion. It is just one of more than 96 parks the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department manages.

Wheeler, and others, have been advocating for nicotine free parks in Cedar Rapids since the neighboring city of Marion implemented nicotine-free parks two years ago.

“Overall, it has been working very well. There has been very little negative associated with it,” said Marion’s Parks & Recreation Director Mike Carolan. “Way more people coming forward saying that it’s great to have that in our park system and very much supported by the community. I think overall it was a great direction to go.”

Carolan said that since banning nicotine in parks, Marion parks have seen a decrease in litter related to tobacco.

“As far as things associated with litter, cigarette butts, that type of thing, definitely you can see a decrease in those overall. As for folks following that ordinance, ... for the most part we see very few people that violate that,” Carolan said.

Sven Leff, director of Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation, says the idea nicotine-free parks was discussed in Cedar Rapids at one point but nothing was passed.

“A couple years ago we looked at where and how it was addressed in our park system,” Leff said, “We looked at our current policy and what other communities were doing. There was a divided opinion about whether that was appropriate or not for Cedar Rapids.”

Though Cedar Rapids does not currently have an ordinance banning use of tobacco products in parks, there are other parts of the city that are designated smoke free.

“It’s not like Cedar Rapids hasn’t done anything,” said Susie Weinacht, an at-large City Council member. “We currently have smoke-free facilities like the pools, the Northwest Recreation Center ... our dog parks, the golf club houses and our golf maintenance building. Those are all smoke free.”

Weinacht says it is unlikely implementing nicotine free parks will be considered this year.

“ ... We have a small group of our people ... working on Chapter 51 (of the municipal code). That’s actually an alcohol permitting discussion and the discussion has been raised whether it would be beneficial to include tobacco in that, but I do not foresee that in 2017,” Weinacht said. “The earliest anything would possibly come forward would be 2018.”

Wheeler said Daniels Park is just one of many parks to be flagged this summer as efforts continue to raise awareness.

“The community has to evaluate what are their goals and does this fit their goals of health and wellness?” Wheeler said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8538; elianna.novitch@thegazette.com

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