Government

Cedar Rapids takes first step to restrict smoking in parks

Smoking would be banned at 52 playgrounds and 12 parks

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

CEDAR RAPIDS — Smoking restrictions in public parks in Cedar Rapids, including stronger safeguards to prevent smoking around kids, received preliminary approval Tuesday from the City Council.

The plan would limit smoking in areas of some parks and ban it outright in others, but it does not address e-cigarettes or chewing tobacco and in many cases is only slightly stronger than current rules.

“I don’t understand why we are not completely banning cigarettes from our parks, from our public spaces,” said council member Dale Todd. “If you are going to do it, do it. To do it in this manner, to me it’s a backward way of trying to attack the problem.”

Todd called the rules a step in the right direction, but said he’d “love to see it go further.”

Council members unanimously approved a first consideration of the change Tuesday. The measure needs to pass twice more, both which likely will be at the next council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.

The plan bans smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars and other smoking devices within 30 feet of park facilities including playgrounds, splash pads and exercise stations. Smoking would be prohibited within 30 feet of scheduled youth programs and entrances to enclosed public buildings on park property.

Additionally, smoking would be banned entirely at Riverside Skate Park, Ushers Ferry Historical Village, Tait Cummins Softball Complex and Tuma Sports Complex.

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Smoking already is banned within 25 feet of entrances to park buildings, in stands at sporting events and largely banned at Tait Cummins, Northwest Recreation Center, Tuma and pools.

E-cigarettes and chewing tobacco would not be banned under the plan.

And people still would be allowed to smoke on the city’s four golf courses, but not within 30 feet of clubhouses or other buildings.

Cedar Rapids’ rules would be similar to those in Des Moines, Davenport, Waterloo, and Sioux City, which closely align with state rules. Iowa City, Marion, Mount Vernon and West Des Moines have full tobacco-free parks.

Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock noted past efforts at full bans in the city have fallen short. Banning smoking around 12 splash pads and 52 playgrounds is a significant step in protecting children from secondhand smoke and cigarette butts, he said.

Rules aligning with state law should make them easier to enforce, he said. He also noted a Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco found nine meters — roughly 30 feet — is the minium distance needed to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

Todd, though, said asking police to measure out 30 feet adds another layer of difficulty to their job, and it would be easier to enforce if smoking was banned all together.

The plan would include a $65 fine for violators, or about $140 counting court costs. Hock suggested ticketing likely won’t be a regular occurrence. Instead, the program will focus on education and awareness.

During a public hearing before the vote, three people spoke in favor of the plan including representatives to the city’s Well-being Advisory Committee, Waterway, Parks and Recreation Commission and Pramod Dwivedi, Linn County Public Health director.

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“This is really to save public health and it is also best practice,” said Dwivedi, who urged the city to expand the rules to include chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.

While people have written against the plan on social media, Vance Knutson submitted the lone objection included in the public record. Knutson, a smoker, urged the council to throw the plan out.

In other action, the council voted unanimously as part of its consent agenda to approve a 5 percent pay raise for City Manager Jeff Pomeranz to $318,220 annually starting Sept. 20, 2018.

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

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