Government

Smoking ban considered for Cedar Rapids parks

(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Four Cedar Rapids parks could see smoking bans and all others would have partial bans restricting smoking around facilities and children’s play areas under a proposal from the city’s parks and recreation department.

The plan would forbid smoking within 30 feet of park facilities including playgrounds, splash pads and exercise stations. It would also prohibit smoking within 30 feet of scheduled youth programs and entrances to enclosed public buildings on park property. Additionally, smoking would be banned at Riverside Skate Park, Ushers Ferry Historical Village, Tait Cummins Softball Complex and Tuma Sports Complex.

“It still serves two very strong needs,” said Scott Hock, parks and recreation director. “Getting smoke away from kids, and it still does give the option for people if they are on a golf course or down fishing by the river with no one around — it gives them the option to smoke if they so choose.”

He believes the room for options will resonate, he said.

The public can weigh in on the proposal during a hearing before the City Council at its next meeting at noon Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. At the same meeting, the City Council is scheduled to make its first of three votes on the measure.

The plan would include a $65 fine for violators plus any court costs, Hock said.

Marion banned smoking in parks in 2015, and Iowa City banned smoking, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes in parks in 2017. Curt Wheeler of the Area Substance Abuse Council wrote a letter to the Cedar Rapids City Council noting that in Linn County, the cities of Center Point, Ely, Springville, Lisbon and Mount Vernon have nicotine-free parks, and so does the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

Wheeler has been urging Cedar Rapids parks to go smoke free for years, but the City Council declined to support a full ban in 2015 with opposition from golfers as a main obstacle. The idea of smoke-free parks surfaced again this summer as part of a response plan to squelch unruly behavior and violence at Greene Square.

The proposal will likely face opposition again.

“I think it is ridiculous,” said Jason Stourac, 42, of Cedar Rapids, who smokes and uses parks regularly. “They are just putting in laws and laws and laws. Common sense should play a role. Be citizens; if you have a problem, say something about. Everyone should have a legal right to the parks whether they are smokers, a kid or if you have a dog.”

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Stourac, who was walking his dog through Greene Square on Wednesday, she he thinks rules will be difficult to enforce and police have enough to do.

Greg Buelow, a spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Police Department, said police will follow the council decision and noted the rules could be a “tool for law enforcement to ensure that the park remains a safe, clean, and family-friendly environment.” Police have cited minors for using tobacco in parks, he added.

Members of the Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission, which plays an advisory role to the city, endorsed smoking restrictions in August, according to meeting minutes, but at least a couple of members have concerns.

Lindsey Podzimek, a commission member who was not at the August meeting, supports the 30-foot smoking restrictions but not banning smoking at Riverside Skatepark. She said if the idea of the ban is to keep secondhand smoke away from kids, the rationale falls flat at the skatepark where the majority of visitors are over 18.

“It’s not going to go over well,” said Podzimek, who owns Eduskate, a skateboard shop at 208 12th Ave. SE. “A lot of people who skate do smoke cigarettes.”

Don Clow, commission secretary, motioned to support the proposal, which follows state code and includes a modified version of Des Moines’ rules, according to the August meeting minutes. The commission voted in favor of the plan at the meeting.

Clow questioned the need for new rules when contacted Wednesday. Clow, who is part of the Five Seasons Ski Team, which uses Ellis Harbor, said the team has had success with voluntary compliance and bans could push people into other unwanted areas. He favors “not too specific” rules.

“I have a great deal of confidence in our smokers, and I think they are doing good job (not smoking around others),” Clow said. “I believe in levers, not hammers.”

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City Council member Susie Weinacht, who is a liaison to the commission, noted several reasons to support the proposal.

Children are often unable to step away from situations with secondhand smoke, signs will empower park users to urge other park users to comply with the 30-foot rule, and, “Leftovers, such as cigarette butts, are not only unsightly litter, they present an additional danger to our kiddos’ health via curiosity that can lead to ingestion,” she said.

“Folks go outside to get a breath of fresh air,” she said.

She listed several areas already smoke-free including pools, the Northwest Recreation Center, dog parks and golf clubhouses. Still, she said, she is open to considering new information.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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