MARION — Beginning Saturday, Marion’s park and trail system will join nearly 50 cities in Iowa that ban the use of cigarettes, cigars, electronic cigarettes and other nicotine products.
Although it will be against a city ordinance to use nicotine in Marion’s park and trail system. police won’t fine violators until Sept. 1, a few days after the Sept. 26 Swamp Fox Festival, an annual celebration of city heritage. Violators face a $50 fine.
The ban, which is not unique to Marion, emerged from a movement spearheaded by the Iowa Department of Public Health and other organizations following passage of the Iowa Smoke Free Air Act in 2008.
The law prohibited smokers from lighting up in various spaces like restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
But the act left cities to decide whether to also ban smoking in parks. And it came before e-cigarettes grew popular.
“For a long time, it was just trying to get individual places to be smoke-free,” said Garin Buttermore, community health consultant in the Tobacco Use Prevention Control Division of the state health department. “I can only imagine that 10 years ago there were next to zero smoke-free parks.”
By 2008, only two cities in the state banned tobacco in city parks — Indianola and Carlisle, both in Central Iowa.
Those then were followed by a steady stream of cities, mostly in Central Iowa, including Dallas Center, Perry and Nevada, and in Southwestern Iowa, including West Oak Forest, Clarinda and Bedford.
Marion is one of the first cities to completely ban nicotine products, including chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes, from its park system. However, the ordinance faced opposition from a small group of people who felt the ban went too far.
“We’re not stepping on civil liberties,” said Marion Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carolan. “Were there some people that were against an ordinance like this? Sure, but you’re always going to have that. But I think overall it’s supported by the community.”
A nicotine-free park system aligns with Marion’s goal of becoming a Blue Zone community, a national designation for areas where people live longer and healthier lives, a status that brings funding and staff support into a community to help it implement a program of health initiatives.
“Marion has the goal to be the healthiest city in the state, and our brand that we have rolled out is about being family-friendly,” said Sara Mentzer, community program manager for Blue Zones Project Marion.
“It’s about living longer. We know that tobacco does not increase your life expectancy … with creating an environment where people live healthier lives, that’s one component of it — being in an environment where you can run on the trail and not have to run through cigarette smoke or walk through it.” Cedar Rapids also has spent months deliberating a nicotine ban in the city’s parks, trails and golf courses.
In late May, the Cedar Rapids Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to recommend the city ban the use of nicotine at these public, outdoor facilities.
However, there is debate about whether golf courses should be included in the ban. Mayor Ron Corbett said that with more pressing issues facing the city, the discussion of a ban will be put off until next year.
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North Liberty is also considering a similar ban in its park areas, but is in the early stages of discussion, said North Liberty Parks Director Guy Goldsmith.