Cedar Rapids City Council considering restrictions on smoking in city parks

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Smoking in Iowa City’s College Green Park — Zak Neumann/Little Village

On Tuesday, the Cedar Rapids City Council will consider introducing restrictions on smoking in the city’s parks. It would not be a total ban, like the one passed by Iowa City in last year that prohibited the use of smokeless tobacco, smoking or vaping in all city parks.

The Cedar Rapids proposal is much more limited in scope, and would eliminate smoking in only four of the city’s approximately 100 parks and recreation areas, as well as restrict it near children’s play areas.

According to the summary included in the city council meeting documents:

The proposed ordinance change would prohibit smoking within 30 feet of park facilities including playgrounds, splash pads, exercise stations, Riverside Skate Park, Ushers Ferry Historical Village, Tait Complex, Tuma Sports Complex, and building entrances to enclosed public buildings on park property. It would also prohibit smoking within 30 feet of scheduled youth programs held in the park system.

Violators would face a $65 fine, plus court costs.

Smoking is currently banned at Cedar Rapids’ dog park, as well as the city’s pools, gold clubhouses and the Northwest Recreation Center. Linn County also bans smoking in its parks.

Scott Hock, Cedar Rapids’ parks and recreation director, told The Gazette that the proposed ban would serve “two very strong needs.”

“Getting smoke away from kids, and it still does give the option for people if they are on a golf course or down fishing by the river with no one around — it gives them the option to smoke if they so choose,” Hock said.

A 2013 study published in the journal Health Affairs examined the impact of banning smoking on beaches and in public parks. It found such bans did produce certain beneficial effects.

By making it “more difficult for smokers to smoke,” the bans “contribute in an important way to the ‘denormalization’ of smoking,” which plays a significant role in influencing smokers to reduce the amount they smoke or quit, and helps discourage kids from starting smoking.

But the study found that bans had very little effect on health problems related to second-hand smoke, because second-hand smoke isn’t a significant issue in outdoor settings.

“The evidence of harm to non-smokers on the beach or in a park from someone smoking is virtually non-existent,” Ronald Bayer, professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the lead author of the study, told the PBS Newshour in 2013.

The Cedar Rapids City Council discussed smoking bans for parks in June, when it was considering an ordinance banning alcohol in Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids. The city council working group that proposed banning drinking in the park also proposed banning smoking in Greene Square. The council did not include smoking in its Greene Square alcohol ordinance, which passed on July 10.

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(Greene Square became the 28th city park in which alcohol is banned. In the city’s other 69 parks, visitors are permitted to have up to a quart of alcohol.)

People interested in discussing the ordinance during the council’s public comment period will need to sign up to speak before the meeting begins at noon Tuesday, Dec. 4 in the council chamber of Cedar Rapids City Hall. This will be the first reading of the proposed ordinance.

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