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story.lead_photo.caption Yoni Alfredo Escobar of Springdale casts a line Friday into the water above the dam and spillway while fishing with his wife at Lake Fayetteville. The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has forwarded a recommendation to approve a proposal banning smoking in city parks. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Smoking is banned in restaurants, shops, theaters, retailers and most other public places in the city. Soon, parks and trails could be added to the list.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Monday unanimously supported a proposal to ban smoking on all city parks and trails. The Northwest Arkansas Tobacco and Drug-Free Coalition sponsored the measure as part of its mission to improve social norms in the community.

The argument

Why should parks go smoke-free?

• Clean air

• Children’s safety

• Fire prevention

• Groundwater pollution prevention

• Studies suggest tourists prefer smoke-free parks

• Grant incentives

• Endorsement from the National Recreation and Parks Association

Source: Northwest Arkansas Tobacco and Drug-Free Coalition

The proposal would prohibit all forms of tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, dip, e-cigarettes and vapor devices. The ban would apply to all parks and trails within the city.

Violators would be subject to a $50 fine. Enforcement would fall to the city's police.

Layza Lopez-Love, coalition member, said the group first met with parks staff about the idea last spring. It didn't take much convincing, she said. Parks employees spend a significant amount of time picking up butts.

It may come as a surprise to residents the city doesn't already have such a ban, Lopez-Love said.

"It's 2018, right? A lot of people just kind of assume that we have things in place for smoking," she said. "We're not in the '90s, it's not in your face anymore. For the most part people are policing themselves."

Fayetteville enacted its smoking ban in public places such as restaurants, stores and other businesses in 2004. Only bars and retail tobacco stores are exempt. Smoking also isn't allowed in city buildings or vehicles as a policy.

An effort to expand the smoking ban to bars in 2011 failed to get the six City Council votes needed to pass.

Parks weren't included in the 2004 ordinance because that ordinance dealt with regulation of private property. As a landowner, the city controls its own property, thus requiring a separate measure, City Attorney Kit Williams said.

Williams wasn't sure why a smoking ban in parks hasn't come up until now.

"I don't think it's gotten this far before," he said. "There might've been some half-measures about bleachers or something, but a uniform ban in all city parks, everywhere, all the time -- that has not been suggested before, to my knowledge."

Bountiful Butts

Cigarette butts remain a consistent problem even if wayward plumes don't. Each year before the fall semester, the coalition assists in a cleanup in which volunteers typically collect more than 10 pounds of butts from Dickson Street. "Ballot boxes" popped up around downtown to deter would-be litterers by encouraging a "vote" with a cigarette butt, usually something like mummies versus zombies.

The problem with that particular type of debris is the filters on cigarettes aren't biodegradable, Lopez-Love said. They don't go away unless someone picks them up. The toxins get into storm drains and the groundwater supply, creating a threat to everyone, she said.

Vickie Cartwright and her family took advantage of the 60-degree weather Friday to spend some time at Walker Park. A couple was smoking cigarettes near the parking lot while the family hung out at the playground.

"If it's wide out in the open, I'm not really that concerned about it," said Cartwright's adult granddaughter, Misty McCard. McCard's young daughter played on the slide a fair distance away from the parking lot.

Cartwright, who said she quit smoking nearly 20 years ago, said cigarette butts are an issue. Kids could pick them up. A cigarette butt was laying on the ground next to the playground equipment.

"I always thought a person has the right to do what they want to do, they should just do it in the right way," Cartwright said.

The family didn't pick a side on the issue. A ban will only do so much, Cartwright said.

"That doesn't mean everybody's going to do it," she said.

Bentonville has banned smoking in parks since 2007, but allows it in designated parking lots. Rogers banned smoking in parks in 2011. Springdale allows smoking in its parks.

Fort Smith passed an ordinance a year ago to ban smoking in parks. The ordinance proposed for Fayetteville is mostly inspired from that measure, Lopez-Love said.

Deleterious Debris

Board Member Wade Colwell said he supported the ordinance but pointed out the irony of the board recently approving alcohol in parks. The City Council certified that measure last month, which allows alcohol sales and consumption for city-approved special events only.

Colwell said he hopes the new ordinance will enhance the effect of littering laws already on the books, adding he doubted many litterers actually get ticketed.

"I bet you it doesn't happen," he said.

Sgt. Anthony Murphy said police don't single out butt-throwers specifically but will cite someone for littering.

"We have pulled people over and cited them for throwing butts out of the window, just like we would if we saw them throw a bag of trash out the window," he said. "Gotta keep Fayetteville clean."

Police see no issues in regard to enforcement of the new ordinance, Murphy said. Officers would enforce it like any other ordinance, although instead of being complaint-driven, a violation would have to occur in front of an officer, he said.

Officers would have discretion when enforcing the ordinance, Murphy said.

"With any new ordinance or law the public will need time realize the ordinance exists, so initially we will be very lenient," he said.

Lopez-Love said the coalition would chip in for signs.

The ordinance would apply to all trails running through the city, including the Razorback Greenway. If there's any opposition, it'll likely come from that front, Parks Board Chairman Richie Lamb said.

Litter is a real problem, specifically in water ways throughout the city, he said. Many of the trails are along water ways.

"Those trails are city property," Lamb said. "That's not a line we want to cross where we start having different rules on the trails than we have on the parks. Every trail we have goes through or goes to a park."

The new ordinance would take effect 30 days after the City Council passes it. A date hasn't been set for the council to take up the issue.

NW News on 02/11/2018

Print Headline: Proposal would ban smoking in parks, trails

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