Smoke-Free Parks: Part Two

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

In the November issue of PRB, I informed readers of an eastern state where a county commission was advocating a proposal to create smoke-free indoor and outdoor facilities and parks.

The topic had not been considered for a final decision by the board of commissioners at the time of that writing (August 2010). In short, the final decision has the hard-working staff and volunteers there singing the “Public Recreator Blues.”

The Road To Nowhere

The county already had smoke-free indoor spaces, but the new proposal was to regulate open outdoor venues, such as trails, general-use parks, golf courses, etc. on the several thousand acres of park land.

The committee wanted to prohibit smoking within 50 feet of any entrance or exit, in any county-owned, leased or rented vehicle, and reaffirmed no smoking on playgrounds. It also added sports fields and several sports and recreation facilities, including common areas, such as bleachers, restrooms, concessions, etc.

The staff and community volunteers on the “No-Smoking Committee” had spent countless hours over months in meetings to come up with suggestions on how to make it work.

Unfortunately, the idea died for lack of a vote, bogging down, generally, over funding.

Basically, the commission balked at the cost of providing equipment and signage to support that option, especially in these difficult budget times. Instead, the commission asked the committee to come back with a plan to encourage people to stop smoking … as long as it didn’t cost anything.

The committee told the commissioners how much it would cost to implement an effective smoking-cessation program, noting studies that showed, on average, about 25 percent of smokers would engage in a smoking-cessation program and, of that 25 percent, about 25 percent would complete the 90-day program. So a great deal of time and money would be spent for a small number of people.

The commission thanked staff and volunteers for their work and recommendations, and moved on to the next agenda item. The administrator and volunteers couldn’t believe that, after all their work, the commission wouldn’t even take a vote. I can visualize the volunteers standing there with their mouths agape, speechless, wondering if what they just witnessed was for real.

I can personally and professionally identify with their frustration and disappointment. However, as disappointing as that effort was, I think it is still an example of a public administration system working the way it should. It is indicative of being part of a contemporary, deliberative public system rather than one of a past era when elected officials merely “did what was best for the people” without actually asking the people what they thought.

The non-smoking idea surfaced in the elected arena, it was passed to the staff that brought in community representatives, they examined the issue, and they offered their best recommendation. Everyone in the community had an opportunity to participate.

That the commission didn’t take action suggests there was not strong public sentiment one way or the other on this issue. The will of the council probably reflected the will of the people. In this community, it apparently wasn’t broke, so it didn’t really need fixing.

Speaking Up For The Community

The experience in the northeastern U.S. contrasts with that of another parks and rec group, in the Canadian Province of Ontario in the city of Woodstock, population 36,000.

There, reports Community Services Director Bob McFarland, the city has a program that is successful and stringent.

“First, you must understand that ‘Smoke-Free Ontario’ implemented province-wide regulations to prohibit smoking in any indoor facility regularly used by the public, including stores, bars and restaurants, as well as all recreation facilities,” he says.

The non-smoking regulations also include all “company” vehicles, including all city-owned vehicles. So the city had the province’s support.

McFarland says that more than two years ago, with the guidance and help of the Oxford County Board of Health, Woodstock adopted more stringent rules concerning smoking near recreation facilities and equipment. It is now illegal to smoke within 9 meters (about 30 feet) of any entrance to a public building, including hospitals, schools, arenas and pools. Smoking is also prohibited within 15 meters (50 feet) of any outdoor sports field and within 30 meters (100 feet) of any playground.

“The rate of compliance with these new regulations has been excellent,” he says. “The purpose of by-laws and regulations is not to fine people for breaking a regulation; it is to encourage compliance with a regulation that is seen to be reflective of community standards. Given the lack of complaints and the number of positive comments received over the past year, I would say that people in our area are ready to ‘butt out.’”

I like the slogan, and I think Bob’s success story exemplifies what I stated earlier--there has to be active public initiative and desire for something like this to work. It really is an uphill battle to change people’s minds.

But this probably doesn’t make our northeastern city staff and volunteers feel any better. So, as we speak, I’m starting to work on a song called “Public Recreator Blues,” and maybe get it on iTunes so we all will have something to sing next time we are engaged in a time-consuming and emotional project that doesn’t really die, but just fades away.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail