The City of Turlock Parks Arts and Recreation Commission met Wednesday reaffirming and updating a smoking ban in City parks on a 6-2 vote recommending that the Turlock City Council take action.
The recommendation made by PARC is an updated ban on cigarette smoking that extends to new tobacco technologies such as vapor and electronic cigarettes in all public parks, facilities and adjacent public parking lots.
PARC’s recommendation to ban smoking in City parks, should it be passed by City Council, is intended to serve as primarily educational, to raise awareness of the issue.
Commission members and staff explained that the ban would not call for police officers necessarily patrolling parks for smokers, rather, they believe that signs, in combination with educational measures with the help of the Stanislaus County Office of Education, will promote anti-smoking habits.
Should there be habitual violators, an administrative citation process could be used and a fine could be issued by a member of City staff; the Turlock Police Department would not necessarily be charged with patrolling and enforcing the ban.
The issue was initially raised when Ken Fitzgerald of the Stanislaus County Office of Education Smoke-Free Parks initiative gave a presentation in January 2013 regarding the matter where the Commission voted in conceptual support of a smoking ban in parks, though no ordinance was approved.
Concern was again raised by Girl Scout Troop 3289 of Turlock at the Aug. 13 PARC meeting, and again at the Sept. 10 meeting where Fitzgerald attended in support giving a presentation on why a tobacco ban should be enacted.
A vote was anticipated at the Oct. 8 PARC meeting, but in an update by Turlock Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Supervisor Erik Schulze, it was revealed that a no-smoking ordinance from 2003, Resolution 2003-08, was already on the books.
The 2003 ban, in Section 8 of the ordinance, states, “The sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages and the use of tobacco of any kind is prohibited on any portion of City of Turlock parks including the Sports Complex facility and parking lot areas.”
No signs were posted indicating the 2003 ban, other than those at the Turlock Sports Complex and the ban was never enforced.
Fitzgerald and the Girl Scouts again attended expressing support.
Explaining that there is no safe level of exposure to smoke, Ally Scott, Turlock High School senior, and member of THS PHAST Club, a group devoted to raising awareness about tobacco prevention, encouraged that the ban be updated to include vapor cigarettes.
“They all look the same from afar,” said Scott. “It’s about modeling for kids.”
PARC Commissioner Brent Bohlender stated support for the passed recommendation noting that it goes with the duties of the Commission to promote health and wellbeing in the community.
“Over time, this gradual change will occur for the better, which is certainly why I support it.”
Noting that City parks would not be policed for smokers, and the ban would not stop individuals from smoking in parks altogether, he described it as a “behavioral modification” rather than taking someone’s rights away.
“It’s alerting individuals that they are affecting other individuals and to please be aware of that,” said Bohlender.
Concerns varied, however. Commissioner Jeremy Rocha saw the ban as having the potential to cause resentment from community members (toward the City) stating that people will continue smoking in parks regardless.
“I believe it’s more about personal responsibility,” said Rocha. “We have to balance the need for individual rights versus community rights…We have to really focus on what danger it’s really imposing…It would be better to go with the education [to] try to get people to stop; offer programs to help them stop smoking and prevent them from smoking.”
“I strongly believe that any amount of government paternalism that could be provided isn’t stronger than parental connection,” concluded Rocha.
Commissioner Sergio Alvarado dissented stating the belief that cigarette smoking in parks, away from children, would not necessarily impose danger to them, but noted that those immediately around smokers would be affected.
“I don’t think the logic applies,” said Alvarado.
“We can’t make a law based on what hasn’t been proven yet with science,” said Alvarado explaining that the effect of secondhand smoke from water vapor has not been proven.
The Girl Scouts explained that they started this project in September 2013 as their troop “Journey,” which is comprised of three elements: discovering, connecting and taking action; they chose the topic of air quality and pollution.
After researching air quality and the effects of secondhand smoke, they decided that they would take action by bringing the matter before the PARC committee in petitioning for a ban on smoking in City parks.
The girls, satisfied with the outcome, explained that while they recognize the value of personal freedom, they believe that when attending public places, like City parks, individuals should respect the health and wellbeing of others who do not wish to be subjected to secondhand smoke.
“We should have a say in what we feel is right in our town,” said Girl Scout Kaci Davis.
Girl Scout Troop 3289 of Turlock takes over City Hall after PARC reaffirms City Park smoking ban per their petition.
Courtesy of Janie Costa/TurlockCityNews.com