Lakewood backs off ban on tobacco in parks

Some on council cite health risks, but others say education would address them more appropriately

Staff writerJanuary 19, 2014 

Lakewood leaders are debating whether to ban smoking and other tobacco use from the city’s 12 parks, including Fort Steilacoom Park, one of the region’s largest.

It’s a change the city of Tacoma made at its parks five years ago, but there are some on the Lakewood council who think a ban in the county’s second-largest city goes too far.

“If we enact this, are we not engaged in what I would call judicial overreach?” asked newly elected Councilman John Simpson at last week’s council meeting. “I think maybe here the city should back off. The citizens have the right to smoke in an open area.”

Simpson said he thinks smoking is “a waste of time, money and life,” but it’s not the city’s place to ban smoking or chewing tobacco outdoors.

After eight months of discussion, Lakewood’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously recommended at the end of 2013 the ban on tobacco products and electronic cigarettes on park property.

The move to ban tobacco is part of a larger initiative to create a healthy environment for park users, said Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services director.

“Parks are open spaces, but there are many areas where you’re sitting in stands, you’re in the dog park, on trails, at a playground with wood chips, or in picnic areas,” she said. “Smoking and some of its aftereffects aren’t desirable.”

Roughly 1,000 people in Pierce County die each year from tobacco-related diseases, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The Tobacco-Free Alliance of Pierce County, a volunteer group connected with the Health Department, has a goal to make all Pierce County parks tobacco free.

The city of Puyallup approved a similar ban in 2005, and the city of Gig Harbor did the same in 2007. The city of Tacoma banned tobacco from its parks in 2009, and in 2012, the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District banned smoking and tobacco products from its 21 properties.

Pierce County allows smoking in its parks, but department staff members are considering proposing a ban to the County Council, according to Parks and Recreation director Tony Tipton.

Lakewood Councilwoman Marie Barth doesn’t smoke, but she said she’s against the proposed ban. Instead, she’d like to see designated areas for smoking and a campaign listing health risks associated with tobacco use, she said.

“I just don’t think we need somebody telling us what to do all the time, every day, everywhere we go,” Barth said. “Expanding this to e-cigarettes, I just think we’re overreaching common sense.”

Electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but because the Federal Drug Administration has yet to take a stance on the devices that use water vapor to deliver nicotine, the city is following the lead of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health District, which warns against exposure.

Lakewood’s proposed ban is part of a larger update to city code governing parks. Another suggested change that doesn’t sit well with some on the council: allowing alcohol in parks with a special permit.

Under current code, groups holding events in a park or at a park facility cannot have a beer garden or serve alcohol. The Parks Department regularly receives and denies requests to hold events such as a wine and cheese fundraiser or an Oktoberfest celebration, Dodsworth said.

The park advisory board recommends allowing alcohol for these types of events with a permit. Permit fees would range from $200 to $1,000, depending on the size of the event, and would require an off-duty police officer be present at a rate of $75 an hour, according to the proposal.

Groups also would have to get a state Liquor Control Board banquet permit, which requires proof of insurance, Dodsworth said.

It still would be illegal for individuals to consume alcohol in parks unless at an approved event.

Allowing alcohol with a permit while banning tobacco seemed contradictory to some council members at Monday’s meeting.

“The tenor of the ordinance is: We will allow alcohol because we can make money from it,” Councilman Michael Brandstetter said. “Smoking I do think is a valid health issue, but I think the way to address it is more by education than by bans and ordinances and laws.”

He said he has a hard time envisioning how authorities would enforce a smoking ban.

Recognizing the division on the council, Mayor Don Anderson asked Dodsworth for a new proposal that finds compromise between banning tobacco and allowing its use in designated areas.

The park advisory board will review the request and could send a recommendation to the council in early February. The council could make a decision at its Feb. 18 meeting.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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