Long-Winded Debate

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.

No-smoking policies at parks have been the subject of this column a couple of times recently. Essentially, two distinct platforms representing two extreme views have been discussed: from the county government in an eastern U.S. city that decided it did not want to impose total smoking restrictions in outdoor venues, to a Canadian city in Ontario that imposed strict laws to limit distances people could smoke from any venue.

This topic received a great deal of reader response, so it’s apparently a topic of interest. I received an e-mail from another parks-and-recreation professional who offered what seems an encouraging compromise.

That solution plays on people’s consciences rather than on obedience to the law.

Ronald J. Woodhead, director of the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Department in Pennsylvania, explained a new program, begun earlier this year and called “Young Lungs At Play.” Offered through the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Penn State Cooperative Extension, the program promotes tobacco-free parks and recreation areas.

It was enacted by the Centre Regional Recreation Authority, which oversees the operations of the parks and recreation areas, and provides municipal-park services and programs for the borough of State College and the townships of College, Harris, Ferguson and Patton.

Signs, sized 12 by 18 inches, will announce “Young Lungs At Play,” which identifies areas as tobacco-free zones. The program is an advisory one--rather than a park ordinance with penalties--to discourage smoking and use of tobacco in these areas.

The signs will initially be placed at four regional sites for a trial period. After other hosting municipalities confirm their endorsement of the program, signs will be provided at the other 42 parks across the region.

Woodhead notes, “Residents had previously expressed support for a policy of this type, and the board felt that at least the playground areas in each municipal park should provide this awareness.” He explains that it is a pilot program for now with the intent to work towards expanding it. Details of the initiative are available at www.crpr.org .

This is a smart way of approaching a controversial issue, which can be filled with hidden land mines and booby traps. There are so many emotional, political and even physiological aspects surrounding the issue that battling it head-on can be a time-consuming and arduous task that ultimately ends going nowhere.

Appealing To The Senses

I have never smoked; well, actually I did for a short while in boot camp when I found out that smokers received two or three “smoke breaks” a day while the rest of us had to shine boots and brass. But I soon discovered that staying in the top physical condition required by the Marine Corps and smoking were not simpatico, so I quit.

Plus, it just tasted nasty and made my clothes smell. I later used chewing tobacco in a fit of boredom in Korea, but soon quit when I accidently swallowed it as I excitedly watched Harriers take off vertically, hover in mid-air, and then land in a military exercise in which I was involved. Chewing tobacco and staring straight up in the air can lead to sickening results. Yeah, yuck!

But I digress. The point is that sometimes it might be better to take a less-direct route to accomplishing a mission.

I will be interested to see how this approach works for this park system. As the old saying goes, “You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” I wonder if anyone has ever attempted a study to see if that’s accurate. At any rate, nice methods are usually better than unkind methods to encourage people to do things.

Will this kinder, gentler way be effective? I think it has at least as good a chance of working as the opposite end of the spectrum, which is to establish a law that then has to be enforced.

I think enforcement has always been the fly in the ointment in creating this type of law. It’s difficult for signage to legislate common sense, and it’s more difficult for law enforcement to catch someone in the act. I would like to believe that people who smoke in crowds and especially around children are in a minority and that most people would not do it. If there is a lapse of attention, a “Young Lungs At Play” sign may jar smokers back to a safe distance from a play area.

The type of person who habitually smokes around people who don’t appreciate it probably won’t pay attention to a sign -- whether it’s suggestive or directive. Normally, people around the smoker will apply peer pressure and “ask” him or her to stop. If this doesn’t work, the problem can become really ugly, really fast. By the time police arrive, the charges may go beyond just smoking in a no-smoking zone to possible assault and battery.

So I’ll stay in touch with Woodhead and ask him to update me periodically on how the “Young Lungs” approach is working. If it seems to have positive results, I’d like to try it here. I hope there’s no franchise fee.

In the meantime, if anyone has any other thoughts or ideas on this subject, feel free to get in touch with me or the PRB staff.

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 dls@peachtree-city.org.