Northland News

Survey: Tobacco ban supported in Columbus parks


The issue is pretty clear: Columbus residents, by an overwhelming majority, don't want clouds of cigarette smoke interrupting their visits to city parks.

According to a recent survey, 71.6 percent of respondents want parks to be free of tobacco, while 19.2 percent prefer it be relegated to certain areas. A slim percentage -- 9.2 percent -- doesn't want any restrictions.

Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health, said 1,500 people responded the survey, which was sent to various community groups and individuals, and posted on city websites from Dec. 2 through Feb. 1.

Columbus Public Health is working collaboratively with the city's Recreation and Parks Department on the issue of tobacco-free parks.

"People were very candid in expressing themselves in what they wanted and what they didn't," Rodriguez said.

"The goal is to reduce the presence of tobacco in our parks so we can protect residents and make sure there's less chance of fire and litter."

In other highlights of the survey, 96.5 percent of respondents want playgrounds to be tobacco-free; 87.8 percent want restrictions near swimming pools; 72 percent want them near spray parks; and another 45.5 percent favor limitations near picnic shelters.

A large majority of respondents -- 87.3 percent -- want the prohibition in place to protect children; 85.4 percent want it to keep the park clean; 82.6 percent want to protect their own health; and 51.6 percent want the policy to reduce the risk of fire.

Steve Aumiller, an assistant director with recreation and parks, said the department hopes to have the new rules in place by this spring.

The Recreation and Parks Commission was expected to adopt the new rules at its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The next step is to apprise softball teams and other contract users of the rules and put signs in place.

"We want to make sure people understand there's a new policy out," Aumiller said.

The survey seems to indicate people would honor the policy, as 84.9 of respondents said they would respect tobacco-free signage, while 5.1 said they would not.

The rules would be self-enforced, meaning they wouldn't be codified into city law.

Tobacco-free zones, which include smokeless tobacco, already are in place in some city parks. For example, smoking, chewing tobacco and sunflower seeds are prohibited in Berliner Park because of potential damage to the artificial softball infields.

Terry Leist, also an assistant director with recreation and parks, said the policy is a good compromise that protects people from secondhand smoke and allows smokers some freedom in city parks.

"I think there has to be a balance for people who do smoke," she said. "They're not indoors or in a confined space."