Lake Norman & Mooresville

Town parks to go tobacco-free March 1

The fresh air in Cornelius just got a little fresher, thanks to a recent ordinance passed by town officials.

Starting March 1, all tobacco products are banned from the town's 200 acres of parkland, making Cornelius the first community in the county to pass such an ordinance.

Davidson has a no-smoking policy in its parks, although it is not enforceable by police. Instead, the staff enforces the policy.

"To us, it makes perfect sense because that's what parks are all about - enjoying the fresh air outdoors," said Troy Fitzsimmons, Cornelius' park director.

The town's PARC department has been discussing the ban since July. Soon after, resident Patricia Bossert approached the department with the same idea, said Fitzsimmons.

Bossert works as a grassroots manager for the American Cancer Society.

"It's a major health issue," said Bossert. "Second-hand smoke is dangerous anytime you can smell it."

Cornelius officials adopted the proposed ordinance unanimously when it went before them on Feb. 6.

Fitzsimmons hopes that, in addition to cutting back on unhealthy exposure to cigarette smoke, the new policy will cut back on park litter, such as cigarette butts.

Bossert also said the ban will promote positive role modeling for youths. "Teens and children who play there and see adults smoking may want to try it when they're older," she said. "This will reinforce healthier habits."

Bossert said she's seen an uptick in tobacco-free park ordinances since the 2009 statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. That legislation gave municipalities the authority to ban tobacco in public parks and buildings.

Seventeen counties and 48 municipalities in the state have smoke-free ordinances, according to the N.C. Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.

A Davidson advisory board may discuss a possible tobacco-free ordinance in the next few months, said Davidson parks director Kathryn Spatz. Last week, Huntersville's parks and recreation commission discussed a similar ordinance.

The town of Cornelius plans to advertise the ban with park signs, said Fitzsimmons. Residents who violate the ordinance may be fined up to $50.

Fitzsimmons said the town has no plans to dedicate police time to enforcing the ordinance. Instead, it will likely be enforced with self-policing.

This means that after the initial signage campaign, the town will rely on residents to educate each other about the tobacco ban and report violators to park employees and police officers.

He said he didn't expect too much resistance from residents, especially considering that 88 percent of Mecklenburg County residents are nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Generally people understand that smoking around other people who don't smoke is probably not the best idea, health wise," said Bossert. "There's usually not a lot of backlash."