City Commission to decide on tobacco ban in Lawrence parks and other recreational areas

A proposal by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department would ban tobacco use in all of Lawrence’s parks, sports complexes and other city-owned recreational areas.

The City Commission will decide Tuesday whether tobacco use will be banned in all of Lawrence’s parks, sports complexes and other city-owned recreational areas.

The proposed ban includes the use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, as well as smokeless tobacco. It extends to cemeteries, dog parks, Eagle Bend Golf Course, bleachers at sports facilities and approximately 1,500 acres around Clinton Lake — all land owned or leased by Lawrence Parks and Recreation.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department brought the idea for a tobacco ban to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last spring. Chris Tilden, director of the health department’s community health program, has said it is “a great step forward.”

On Dec. 8, the advisory board unanimously voted to advance the proposal.

Jimmy Gibbs, recreation operations manager of Parks and Recreation, said the ban is an attempt to create a healthy environment for the people, mostly children, using the department’s parks, pools and other facilities.

“We recognize that tobacco use is detrimental to the health of our participants,” Gibbs said. “We have a really unique opportunity to create an environment that discourages tobacco use. Our parks, we establish them to promote healthy activities; the purpose is to promote community wellness. This fits right in with that.”

The ban is on the City Commission’s consent agenda, meaning it will not be talked about before it’s voted on, unless one of the commissioners or a member of the public pulls it for discussion.

If approved, the policy will go into effect April 1.

The ban is being proposed by Parks and Recreation as a department policy — not a change to city law — meaning the department would be responsible for enforcing it.

The proposed policy does not outline any penalties for those caught using tobacco. Gibbs said the ban is not meant to be punitive and that the intent is to “create a systematic change in tobacco-use behaviors.”

Ernie Shaw, Parks and Recreation director, admitted during a Nov. 10 meeting, at which the proposal was discussed, that the ban would be unenforceable in some instances. But, he said, staff would monitor high-use areas.

Signs announcing the ban will be placed in areas where people generally gather, such as the clubhouse at Eagle Bend Golf Course.

Organizations that use the department’s facilities will be asked to help enforce the policy, the proposal states. Parks and Recreation staff will “periodically” watch to make sure the rule is being followed, the policy says.

“If someone is smoking, that will be an opportunity to make contact and educate them about why we have this in place,” Gibbs said. “We’re not by any means going to write tickets or call the police. That’s not what this is about.”

Gibbs said he expects that when most people learn of the ban, they will comply with it.

“Most of the time, we guess that folks are going to be very respectful of the policy and extinguish their cigarette,” Gibbs said.

The city’s current smoking laws, enacted in 2004, make it illegal to smoke in any enclosed public spaces. It does not regulate tobacco use in public outdoor areas, nor does it explicitly ban e-cigarettes.

“There are no ordinances that control tobacco use in outdoor spaces,” Tilden said when the proposal was discussed in November. “This is the first pretty substantial and pretty big move to create an administrative policy that would enforce tobacco-free grounds.”

In its explanation of what’s banned, the department listed items that fall under “smoking-delivery devices” as: e-cigarette, cigarillo, cigar, pipe, hookah and vape pen.

According to the list, “tobacco products” mean “smokeless, spit or spit-less, dissolvable, absorbable, inhaled, exhaled or snorted products that consist of natural or synthetic vegetation, chemicals or derivatives, herbs, tobacco, nicotine or other lighted or vaporized substances.”

The ban excludes nicotine replacement products such as skin patches and gum.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.