MARION — Smoke them now if you got them.
After wrestling with the topic for more than a month, the Marion City Council on Thursday night imposed an ambitious ban on smoking and the use of tobacco, nicotine products, and vaporizers in the city’s 21 parks and on its trails.
The vote was 6-1, with Mayor Snooks Bouska voting no, saying he didn’t like the $50 fine that violators must pay.
Council member Joe Spinks, who had been skeptical of the idea a month ago, said he was voting for the ban after getting its start date pushed back to Aug. 1. The first enforcement won’t be until 30 days later, Spinks said, so smokers have a chance to prepare and summer park use has ended.
Police Chief Harry Daugherty told the council he would wait to enforce the ban until after the city’s annual Swamp Fox Festival on Sept. 26.
Nick AbouAssaly, who spoke at length about his own analysis of the pros and cons of a ban, called the vote the most difficult one of his time on the council.
In the end, he said he could not ignore the “indisputable evidence” that tobacco products are harmful. He cited the U.S. surgeon general, who he said has concluded there is no healthy level of secondhand smoke, and segregating smokers doesn’t keep smoke from non-smokers.
AbouAssaly said a ban in parks and on trails does not ban tobacco use, but simply asks smokers to smoke elsewhere. It comes down to public health versus inconvenience to smokers, and public health wins out, he said.
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A month ago, the council tabled the ban to discuss the matter further with the police chief and the Marion Park Board, which unanimously recommended the ban to the council.
Council member Paul Draper said he was “asking the big guy about the issue” at the start of Thursday night’s council meeting when council members paused for a moment of quiet reflection. Most people who called him were opposed to the ban, he said.
The mayor said the city’s parks operation had seen some success in curtailing smoking in some parts of parks by erecting no-smoking signs, and he said more signs might be effective.
However, council member Cody Crawford, who has favored the ban from the idea’s inception, said signs without police enforcement wouldn’t work.
AbouAssaly said his research found that nine out of 10 adult smokers start at a young age, and council member Kim Etzel said the ban would help protect children using the parks.
Mary Lou Pazour, a retired Linn County sheriff’s sergeant, said she didn’t think the new law was enforceable, but she voted with the majority in the end.
The council votes two more times on the issue before it becomes law.