Staff Editorial

Park smoking limits strike the right balance

A Cedar Rapids woman smokes outside her place of employment. If a new city proposal becomes law, smoking would be completely banned at four Cedar Rapids parks and within 30-feet of all park playgrounds and other facilities. (Liz Martin/Gazette Archives)
A Cedar Rapids woman smokes outside her place of employment. If a new city proposal becomes law, smoking would be completely banned at four Cedar Rapids parks and within 30-feet of all park playgrounds and other facilities. (Liz Martin/Gazette Archives)

Cedar Rapids City Council members gave preliminary approval this week to rules restricting smoking in city parks and recreation areas. We think the restrictions, focused on shielding non-smoking park users from exposure to tobacco smoke, strike a welcome, prudent balance.

Under the rules, smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes would be banned within 30 feet of park facilities, including playgrounds, exercise stations and splash pads. The 30-foot prohibition also would apply to the entrances of enclosed park facilities and scheduled youth program events.

Smoking would be banned entirely at Ushers Ferry Historical Village, Tait Cummins Softball Complex, Tuma Sports Complex and Riverside Skate Park. The smoking limits would not apply to city golf courses, except around clubhouse entrances.

The city uses the state’s definition of smoking, focused on the burning of tobacco products. It would not apply to E-cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

The new rules mainly are aimed at keeping smokers a safe distance from places where non-smokers, especially children, congregate and could encounter secondhand smoke or discarded cigarette butts. The 30-foot zone is based on public health research, city officials said. And the new ordinance would be consistent with rules in place in other Iowa cities, including Des Moines.

We understand concerns that such a distance might be difficult for law enforcement officers to estimate. That said, the goal of the ordinance is mainly educational. Officials expect few, if any, $65 citations to be issued. That’s been the experience elsewhere.

We also understand sincere arguments for a total ban on nicotine in all parks, akin to ordinances in place in Marion and Iowa City. But such a blanket ban crosses the line from protecting bystanders to policing individual choice. We’ve agreed with golfers and others who argued making it illegal to light up on the broad expanse of a golf course fairway, at an out-of-the-way fishing hole or some other wide open outdoor space goes too far.

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The city’s more measured approach, targeting health concerns without being heavy-handed, is a better option. Over time, if problems persist, the City Council can revisit the issue. We urge the council to give final approval to this reasonable step forward.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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