Members of Kent County’s Levy Court are setting the stage for a possible smoking ban in outdoor county recreation areas, including its four major parks.
The issue was on the agenda at Tuesday night’s Community Services Committee meeting, chaired by Commissioner Jody Sweeney.
Sweeney said brought up the issue because commissioners have been contacted by a number of county residents about implementing such a ban.
“As chairman of the committee, I fully support a smoking ban,” Sweeney said.
“Our parks are used for many activities, but mostly for fun and exercise,” he said. “I would like to see a message from the county that says we want our residents to be healthy, and that starts with stopping smoking.”
Tuesday night’s discussion was to address only tobacco-related products, Sweeney said, adding there could be later discussions on including e-cigarettes in the ban.
He noted other Delaware cities and towns, including Lewes, Dewey Beach, and Rehoboth Beach have prohibited smoking in their parks or on their beaches.
The town of Dewey Beach enacted an outdoor smoking ban in 2013, and the idea has worked well, said town spokeswoman Mary Dunmyer. The town worked with the American Lung Association to make people aware of the issue as it went through the legislative process, she said.
“Keeping the beaches clean was one reason, but also the ALA will tell you that second-hand smoke, even outdoors, is a danger particularly to young children and where young children are playing.”
Support for the ordinance and compliance with it has been overwhelming, noted Dewey Beach town manager Mark Appelbaum.
“I would say comments have probably been 20-to-1 in support,” he said. “We’ve got about 90 percent compliance, and we’re OK with that.”
Lewes instituted a smoking ban in its parks in 2009, said former town council member Barbara Vaughan, who championed the idea.
“We were close to bringing the new Canalfront Park online, and I really did not want to see this beautiful new park littered with cigarette butts everywhere,” Vaughan said. “We’re fortunate to have a parks and recreation committee, and they endorsed the idea, and we sent it to the mayor and council.”
“We’ve not had any problems,” Vaughan said. In addition to keeping people and children away from second-hand smoke, the ban had the ancillary effect of reducing upkeep costs because maintenance personnel didn’t have to pick up cigarette butts, she said.
Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Lung Association was pleased Levy Court commissioners may consider a ban. People have gotten used to not being able to smoke indoors and they will do the same when it comes to not smoking in some outdoor venues, she said.
“To remove smoking at parks where individuals and family frequent continues Delaware’s smoke-free experience,” she said. In addition to improving people’s health, the policy also would make the parks cleaner, deglamorize smoking and possibly encourage people to quit.
Levy Court President Brooks Banta said he has received about 45 complaints about outdoor smoking from Kent County residents over the past few years.
“A number of moms and dads have approached me and encouraged us to consider a ban,” Banta said. “They don’t think [smoking] is healthy for their children and for themselves, so they’ve suggested we consider that.”
Smokers who do use the park should be able to go without lighting up while they’re there, he added.
“I don’t see it as a big deal,” Banta said. “I think any reasonable person who looks at the big picture and looks at the health of the people in the park would say it’s important they abide by the rules.”
The meeting was the first step in possibly barring smoking in the parks. If a majority of commissioners agree with the idea, it t would have to be drafted into policy document. A public hearing on the policy would follow, and if commissioners decided to press forward, an ordinance would be written and again voted on by the full Levy Court.
Sweeney said he did not have a timeline for when any follow-up action could occur because the idea was in the discussion stage.