Grove City banned smoking in public parks more than a year ago, but city officials say informing people of the change has been slow going.

Franklin County Public Health plans to help.

The health department secured a $110,000 grant and will use a portion of it to install no-smoking signs in Grove City's 21 public parks. The rest will fund tobacco use prevention and cessation programs in Grove City, Franklin and Prairie townships and the South-Western City School District, which serves all three communities.

The Ohio Department of Health awarded the grant in October 2016.

The goal is to keep secondhand smoke out of child-friendly areas and to educate youths about the dangers of tobacco, said Joe Mazzola, Franklin County's health commissioner.

The South-Western school district has already established a Students Taking a New Direction club, a prevention program aimed at middle-school students.

"We've been pleased with the response from youth in these communities," Mazzola said. "They see this as an important issue, which is very exciting."

Southwestern Franklin County has a higher number of tobacco users compared to the rest of the county, which is one reason why the grant targets that area, Mazzola said. Efforts such as Grove City's park policy and area residents' socioeconomic status were contributing factors.

Grove City is the county's first suburban city to ban tobacco from all its parks.

The rule, approved in February 2016, applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes and all other tobacco products.

First-time violators will be charged with a minor misdemeanor and banned from the park where they committed the offense for 30 days, according to Grove City's code. Subsequent offenses committed within a year bring harsher penalties.

The first no-smoking sign was placed at Fryer Park on June 27, and the remainder will be installed as quickly as possible, said Don Walters, the city's director of community and business relations.

"This will formalize the law, which up until this point has been on more of a verbal communication basis," Walters said.

No one has been cited for violating the law yet, Grove City police said.

Grove City Mayor Ike Stage said he is proud that Grove City was a trailblazer in making its parks tobacco-free.

"I was arguing for it for many years," he said. "It doesn't make sense to allow smoking in our wonderful outdoor park areas and expose our children to all that second-hand smoke."

The smoking ban applies to all city parks and parks and recreational facilities, including the Eagle Pavilion, Kingston Center and Evans Senior Center, Stage said.

The most common use of tobacco at parks facilities was at ball diamonds and other youth athletic facilities, he said.

"Parents come to watch their kids play and light up a cigarette," Stage said.

Grove City's ban follows other local ordinances aiming to keep children away from tobacco and secondhand smoke. Franklin County Public Health hopes its partnership with the city will encourage other communities to consider similar policies, Mazzola said.

Delaware and Genoa townships in Delaware County and Jackson Township in Franklin County also prohibit smoking in parks. Preservation Parks of Delaware County banned smoking at its playgrounds.

Columbus Recreation and Parks Department established tobacco-free zones in 2013 for city-run facilities at parks, but it is not a city law. Some cities ban smoking in specific public areas, such as Dublin and Powell, which ban smoking at pools and playgrounds, respectively.

Franklin County Metro Parks do not ban smoking.

Bexley, Columbus, Grandview Heights, New Albany, Powell and Upper Arlington recently approved bans on tobacco sales to anyone younger than 21. Dublin City Council is considering a similar move. Ohio law only prohibits sales to anyone younger than 18.

Ohio's smoking rate is about 22 percent -- higher than the national average -- and about 20,000 people a year die from smoking-related health issues, said Ken Fletcher, the American Lung Association's director of advocacy in Ohio.

ThisWeek reporter Alan Froman contributed to this story.

awidmanneese@dispatch.com

@AlissaWidman