‘It’s long overdue’: Washington City considers banning tobacco use in city parks, trails

WASHINGTON CITY — Following a presentation given by area youth Wednesday, the Washington City Council is leaning toward banning tobacco use in the city’s public parks and trails.

A member of the Washington County Youth Coalition speaks to the Washington City Council about implementing a stricter tobacco-free policy in the city, Washington City, Utah, April 28, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Washington City, St. George News

During the City Council’s Wednesday work meeting held just prior to the regular meeting, council members heard from the Washington County Youth Coalition. The coalition, which is sponsored by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department and similar agencies, is composed of high school students from across the county who engage in campaigns against tobacco use and other health threats to the county’s young people.

“We believe you should have the freedom to go and enjoy recreation and these facilities without having to worry about secondhand smoke and other tobacco products,” a member of the coalition told the City Council.

The coalition wants to see the city adopt a stronger tobacco-free policy than the one currently in place.

Washington City Attorney Thad Seegmiller said the current policy was adopted as a resolution by the City Council in 2007. That policy basically “encourages” people not to smoke in public parks and trails. Upon hearing more details of the current policy, one of the council members said the policy “has no teeth” as far as enforcement.

Coalition member Kirsten Johannsen said the goals of the stronger tobacco-free policy are fourfold:

  • Protect people who already have health issues, as well as otherwise healthy individuals, from inhaling secondhand smoke.
  • Prevent young children from seeing smoking in public and thereby believing it is something normal and acceptable.
  • Encourage current smokers and vape users to quit.
  • Keep parks clean of smoking remains like cigarette butts.
In this 2019 file photo, children play at the Shooting Star Park in Washington City. A new policy the city is thinking of adopting would ban tobacco use in city parks and on city trails, Washington City, Utah, Oct. 4, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Nearly 60% of Utah youth are exposed to secondhand smoke every week in outdoor settings, another Youth Coalition member said, adding “There is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke.”

According to data from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, around 8% of Washington County’s population smoke, and an estimated 80% of smokers overall want to quit.

Tobacco use is also considered the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the state and nation as a whole, according to the Health Department.

Vaping was also denounced by the Youth Coalition, as it is still seen as a tobacco product and is considered a health danger to youth in general. If the city adopts a stronger tobacco-free policy, vaping will also become prohibited in the city’s park and on its trails.

Tobacco-free policies have already been adopted by several other cities within the county, as well as by the county itself. Dixie State University also transitioned to becoming a smoke-free campus within the last decade.

Following the presentation, Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson asked if the council was considering a resolution or an ordinance. The latter would allow some form of enforcement, such as a low-level citation and possible fine.

Seegmiller said the legal department’s suggestion was that the city adopts an ordinance disallowing tobacco use in its parks.

Since the presentation was given in a work meeting, the City Council did not take a vote on the matter, but they gave Seegmiller the green light to create the new ordinance.

“We’re prepping an ordinance,” Neilson said following the meeting. “We are fully in support of it.”

While there will likely be some form of enforcement attached for potential violations, the mayor said the city will work to get the word out first and educate the public before it moves on citing anyone.

“I’m excited we’re doing this,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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