Columbus eyes tobacco-free zones in parks
Anyone who enjoys a dip of Skoal at a softball game might be in for a big disappointment this summer.
The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is considering a policy that would create tobacco-free areas at city-run facilities.
The department is looking to eliminate the use of tobacco products -- that includes cigarettes as well as smokeless products -- in areas such as playgrounds, tennis courts, ball diamonds, basketball courts and youth-sports zones.
Officials with recreation and parks, along with Columbus Public Health, have sent a survey to tens of thousands of people and have posted the questionnaire on their individual websites. The survey also was sent to area commissions and civic groups.
"It's just our attempt to educate people as to what's the right and healthy thing to do for the community," said Steve Aumiller, an assistant director with recreation and parks.
The survey will help determine where appropriate restrictions should take place, Aumiller said.
Smoking already is prohibited in shelter houses and baseball dugouts but not in open-air picnic shelters.
In some places, such as Berliner Park, smoking, chewing tobacco and sunflower seeds are banned because of the potential damage to new artificial infields, Aumiller said.
Unlike the statewide smoking ban, the tobacco-free rules would not be codified in city law.
Rather, they would be self-enforced, meaning city workers would try to encourage park-goers to obey the rules, but violators would not face any penalties, Aumiller said.
"It's more of an awareness campaign," he said.
Survey results will be collected at the end of January and a recommendation will be made to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Commission in the spring.
The department will ask for a non-binding resolution of support from City Council.
Aumiller said pro-smoking forces likely will disagree with any decision that limits tobacco use in wide-open spaces, but the potential for new rules is based on health, safety and sanitary considerations.
"We just think it's the right direction to go," he said.
Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented in central Ohio.
The city of Powell in October passed legislation creating tobacco-free zones in its parks. No one can smoke or use smokeless tobacco within 50 feet of designated zones, such as playgrounds, restrooms and shelter houses.
Powell City Manager Steve Lutz said the ban is enforceable, but he doesn't see it being a big issue in Powell.
"This legislation will be enforced on a complaint basis," Lutz said.
The tobacco-free zones conceivably could affect the city's dog parks.
That's good news to Eugene Shannon, who took his sheltie out for a stroll last week at the Godown Dog Park on the Northwest Side. He said cigarette smoke is bothersome.
"I don't know if it affects dogs, but it affects human beings," said Shannon, who said he would consider taking the survey.
Terri Leist, Columbus assistant director of recreation and parks, said in the case of the dog park, the city would have to work on a policy with the city of Worthington, which is a partner in the facility.
"That's something we'd have to work out," Leist said.
"We're not there yet," she said, adding the city has similar arrangements at other parks.