Over the last decade, over 140 cities and/or counties in California have passed policies that prohibit smoking at city parks and public events. The City of Turlock may soon join the ranks of those cities to take tobacco control measures and encourage smoke-free public parks.
The Turlock Parks and Recreation Commission voted on Wednesday evening to endorse the concept that parks should be smoke-free, and will be creating a letter of support to be passed on to the Turlock City Council.
Ken Fitzgerald, Regional Health and Safety Planning Coordinator of the Stanislaus County Office of Education Prevention Program Department attended the meeting to give a presentation on the benefits of smoke-free parks with hopes to receive support from the commission to advocate for the cause.
The project, entitled Clean and Healthy Smoke-Free Parks by the Stanislaus Advocacy Action Team (StAAT), has a goal to promote clean and healthy parks by organizing the community and advocating for local smoke-free parks policies.
Fitzgerald emphasized the danger of Secondhand Smoke (SHS), or smoke drifting from someone smoking nearby. SHS has been declared a toxic air contaminant by the California Air Resources Board, and causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths every year nationwide. He pointed out that SHS can also trigger asthma attacks, particularly with young children who are often found playing at public parks.
In addition to pointing out the dangers of SHS, Fitzgerald also discussed the significant amount of tobacco litter that would be decreased from public parks should smoke-free parks become policy for the City of Turlock.
StAAT has partnered with Stanislaus County PHAST (Protect Health and Slam Tobacco), a youth coalition that educates peers on the dangers of tobacco use, and counter pro-tobacco influences through community advocacy.
Both PHAST and StAAT have joined to visit fifteen public events within Stanislaus County in Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Patterson, Newman and Salida to collect both litter and tobacco litter. From nine separate events, the groups have collected 16,024 cigarette butts, including 1,977 in Turlock alone from only two public events.
According to California’s Clean Air Project (CCAP), local officials report that the key to successful smoke-free outdoor policy compliance is the posting of clear comprehensive signage in the parks. Signage is often used b members of the public to reinforce the ordinance. Strategic signage creates gentle reminders of the smoking ban. It is a simple matter for a member of the public to point to a sign if they see someone smoking.
Based on reports of California cities and counties that have banned smoking in public parks, smoke-free park ordinances currently enacted have been, by and large, self-enforcing, thus allowing the ordinance to change the “social norm” of where it is appropriate, and inappropriate, to smoke.
Commission Chair Barney Gordon was the only commissioner to vote in opposition to taking action at the meeting, solely because he believed it would’ve been prudent to hold a public forum on the matter first and have more community involvement on the issue before taking action on whether or not to support the concept. Gordon requested to have the item brought back to the commission at the following meeting, however, the rest of the commission voted to take action there and then.
While the commission voted in favor of supporting the concept of smoke-free parks, should an ordinance be drafted, it would ultimately lay within the hands of the Turlock City Council to make such changes.