The Garden City Commission on Tuesday approved an ordinance that would make it illegal to smoke cigarettes in Garden City public playground areas.

Specifically, the ordinance regulates smoking, “the use of tobacco products,” and electronic cigarettes. The conversation at the city commission meeting mostly pertained to cigarettes and the potential for littering of cigarette butts in places where children play.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Cunningham, who recently became the city staff liaison to the local Community Health Advisory Board (CHAB), brought the issue forward and was joined by CHAB member Donna Gerstner.

The issue was first broached at a CHAB meeting in early November, when Gerstner introduced an initiative to implement an ordinance pushing for 100 percent tobacco-free public areas, specifically where children play.

The initiative was modeled after the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Young Lungs at Play Program, which helps communities establish tobacco-free playgrounds. Through the program, metal signs are supplied to tobacco-free areas upon request.

The ordinance’s passage comes close to the first anniversary of the passage of the T-21 ordinance, which increased the minimum age to buy tobacco products in Garden City from 18 to 21.

Fifteen other communities already have taken the same measure, including Great Bend.

In Garden City, the proposed signage will be installed in Ayala Park, Deane Wiley Park, Finnup Park, Finnup Scout Park, Lions Park, A. Harold Long Park, Peebles Complex, Santa Fe Park and Wildcat Park.

The number of included parks may be expanded or reduced but will always be indicated by KDHE signage.

The city’s parks department has not received any complaints regarding the use of tobacco products or resulting litter, but CHAB members have reported witnessing it as a problem, according to Cunningham.

The ordinance would become part of the city’s Uniform Public Offense Code and render any violation of the ordinance a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a small fine and up to 30 days in jail.

The signage will read, “Young Lungs at Play – This is a Tobacco-Free Zone.”

Gerstner contended that implementation of the ordinance will curb second-hand smoke affecting children and keep kids from putting cigarette butts in their mouths.

“It’s there, you just don’t realize it,” Gerstner said of the perceived problem.

Cunningham noted that signs could be erected even without an enforceable ordinance.

Commissioner Melvin Dale, who worked for three decades as a law enforcement officer, said he doesn’t know how the ordinance will be enforced.

“I’d hate to see us put an ordinance on the books that’s almost impossible to enforce,” he said, adding that he doesn’t oppose erecting signs that would deter recreationists from smoking.

Commissioner Lindsay Byrnes, a pediatrician, said signage as a deterrent also could contribute to public education and the city’s image as a healthy community. She said extreme situations could warrant enforcement of the ordinance, “but the real power comes from the signage and its placement.”

“All the evidence supports that we should be moving toward these kinds of endeavors and tobacco-free cities and spaces and public spaces,” Byrnes said. “While it is an individual’s right to choose to smoke, it’s also an individual’s right to choose not to smoke.”

Byrnes said officials should err on the side of safety and good health when it comes to maintenance of public spaces.

City Attorney Randy Grisell said very few smoking infractions result in court appearances, and existing smoking ordinances have been successful in keeping people from smoking. He added that violations more likely would result in a warning by law enforcement officers than a ticket.

“As with many ordinances we have, they’re very hard to enforce and prosecute if there’s a violation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good reason to have those sections in place,” he said.

Byrnes motioned to adopt the ordinance, which passed 3-1, with Mayor Roy Cessna in opposition. Commissioner Troy Unruh was absent.

 

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.