Westerville won't be adopting a Tobacco 21 law, but the city is planning on banning smoking in its parks.
Earlier this month, the city declined to vote on a smoking ban for people under 21 years of age, bucking the trend of several central Ohio communities adopting laws backed by the Tobacco 21 movement.
City Council received input from staff, its own members and others on the topic of legislation inspired by Tobacco 21, an initiative spearheaded by the Columbus Department of Health that prohibits tobacco sales, inclusive of all products and paraphernalia including hookah, e-cigarettes, pipes, rolling papers, etc. to anyone under the age of 21 in Columbus.
But after all of that, City Manager David Collinsworth said the city's legal team felt "a preemption in state law" meant that regulating smoking age was "out of our local control."
On a related topic, however, the city is confident it can ban smoking in public parks and recreational areas. Introduced at the same time as the city's decision not to implement a Tobacco 21 law, the proposed ordinance would prohibit smoking and the use of e-cigarettes in city parks and its parkland, citing "the health, safety and welfare" of Westerville residents.
City Law Director Bruce Bailey said the ordinance is inspired by other cities with similar laws and is well within Westerville's jurisdiction.
"Unlike Tobacco 21, the state has not spoken in this area. We're not pre-empted," he said.
"We have the ability to prevent smoking in our parks if we wish. There's a valid public-health, safety, welfare argument and basis to do that. There's a second-hand smoking issue. There's litter. There's visual effects. There's odor. There's an effect on children," Bailey said.
Reynoldsburg, for example, passed an ordinance designating "tobacco-free zones" in city parks in December 2017.
City officials there worked with Franklin County Public Health to develop appropriate signs.
Most of Westerville's council expressed support for the idea, but Councilman Tim Davey said he was concerned the ordinance, which would allow for enforcement by police, would "waste resources."
Instead, he said, he favored a sign saying "please don't smoke" or something similar.
"I see real enforcement issues," he said. "We should only be passing laws that are enforced. This (issue), I don't think is a threat to the health and safety of the public. It's more of a nuisance type of issue."
Councilwoman Valerie Cumming, along with others, disagreed.
"I think it absolutely is a health and safety issue, particularly where children congregate," she said. "We could go back and forth all night on what is or is not a 'waste' of police resources.
"In my opinion, we regulate all kinds of activity in the park. You can't do anything you want just because it's a park."
Collinsworth said the decision between signs and police enforcement "isn't an either/or" conversation, and that police likely wouldn't be called immediately.
"A parks employee could go up in a friendly way and say, 'Are you aware for example that city ordinances prohibit smoking in the park?' " he said.
A second reading of the ordinance was scheduled for council's June 19 meeting.