Chris Kassner is a smoker but supports a proposed Mecklenburg County ordinance that would ban smoking from the grounds of government buildings.
Yet he’s against a second proposal to ban all tobacco use from county parks, greenways and golf courses. Kassner is a golfer and likes to smoke cigars, cigarettes or electronic cigarettes while he plays.
“I’m an adult, and I don’t need government telling me where I need to smoke or not smoke,” said Kassner, of Charlotte. “If I’m playing golf and I want to smoke, leave me alone.”
Kassner was one of about 15 residents who attended a public forum Monday on the two ordinances being pushed by Health Director Marcus Plescia and Park and Recreation Director Jim Garges.
They got to ask questions and make comments to Plescia and three other panelists: Assistant County Manager Michelle Lancaster, Deputy Park and Recreation Director Michael Kirschman and Kim Bayha, an educator and tobacco prevention coordinator with the county health department.
Plescia has urged county officials to consider the comprehensive ban since he was hired in January, noting that tobacco use is the county’s top health concern. Such bans, he said, are among the most effective means to cut down on smoking as a county and show young people “that smoking isn’t cool.” He said 20 percent of Mecklenburg residents smoke and the goal is to cut that in half by 2020.
Garges has pushed a ban in parks for years. It has been endorsed by the Mecklenburg County Commission’s Health and Human Services Committee and park commissioners.
The ordinances also have the support of the local chapter of the American Heart Association, said board member Sandra Burke, a cardiovascular research scientist who spoke at Monday’s forum.
“We know clearly that smoking is bad for us,” Burke said. “One of the ways we can make a difference now is to have these ordinances pass. We know from other areas of the country that they work.”
County commissioners will hold a public hearing Sept. 2 and vote on the issue Sept. 17. Since commissioners also comprise the county’s health board, approving the ordinances would extend the ban to the grounds of municipal government buildings, including those in the city of Charlotte.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said in an email to Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James that he feelssuch ordinances should be local decisions – calling the county ordinance “a little heavy-handed.”
Taylor said he felt his town will ultimately pass a similar smoking ban, “but the fact remains that that decision should be a local one.”
Plescia said it’s important to keep the bans intact.
“If you start pulling things out or designating special places to smoke, you gut the ordinance,” he said. “If you’re not ready to do it right, let’s not do it.”