WOONSOCKET – The city could become the fourth community in the state to ban smoking in public parks and recreation areas under an ordinance up for consideration by the City Council on Monday.
If passed, it would follow Central Falls, Warren and West Warwick in prohibiting smokers from lighting up outdoors.
Cumberland passed a non-binding ordinance to ban smoking in parks in 2009 but it’s not illegal for people to smoke outdoors.
The Woonsocket proposal would prohibit smoking at all athletic fields, playgrounds, parks and outdoor recreation facilities, allowing the police to fine anyone caught violating the ordinance $100.
The proposal was introduced by Council President John Ward at the request of the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, a non-profit arm of the city that advocates healthy, drug-free lifestyles for youth.
Carol Frisk, tobacco control coordinator for the prevention coalition, said the ordinance is designed to protect children from the dangers of second-hand smoke and help keep the city’s parks free of cigarette litter, including packaging and butts.
“It would be a positive thing for a community at a time when we don’t have a lot of positive things going on,” she says.
The WPC wasn’t sure it would be able to muster public support for the measure because Woonsocket is believed to have a significantly higher number of smokers than the statewide average. The Department of Health doesn’t track smoking rates by city and town, but it says about 17 percent of Rhode Islanders smoke and that smoking rates are generally higher among those in lower income brackets, especially between $25,000 and $49,000 a year. Woonsocket’s median income is $39,329, according to the U.S. census.
Last year, however, in a survey of nearly 300 city residents that included smokers and ex-smokers, 83 percent of respondents said they would “like or love the idea of 100 percent smoke-free parks,” according to Frisk.
Lisa Carcifero, the director of the WPC, said the goal of the ordinance isn’t to deny anyone the opportunity to smoke, but to protect children from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
“It’s really the kids that use the parks so much and we’re trying to make it a healthy environment for them,” she said. “This will be a positive thing and I believe we’ll have the community support.”
A preamble to the proposed ordinance says the federal Centers for Disease Control has determined that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease and there is no risk-free level of contact with second-hand smoke. It says more people die every year from smoking than the combined toll of alcohol, traffic accidents, cocaine, heroin, AIDS, murder and suicide.
The “City of Woonsocket has a unique opportunity to create and sustain a smoke-free, clean air environment supported by adult-peer role modeling on city-owned property in order to protect everyone’s right to breath clean, smoke-free air...”
Smoking has been illegal in all enclosed workplaces in Rhode Island, including bars and restaurants, since the Public Health and Workplace Safety Act went into effect in March 2005. A proposal surfaced in the General Assembly last year to extend the ban to public beaches, but it was never passed.
“There is no law prohibiting smoking, but we are trying to curb smoking on beaches on a voluntary basis in partnership with the state Department of Health,” says John Faltus, deputy director of recreation for the state Department of Environmental Management.
The state ban on indoor smoking has always given cities and towns the leeway to adopt stricter codes, but so far only three communities in Rhode Island have done so – Warren, West Warwick and Central Falls, according to Americans for Nonsmoker Rights, a group that tracks the progress of smoke-free initiatives around the country. Smoking is also banned at town beaches in North Providence and Westerly and 16 communities in Massachusetts prohibit puffing in parks and recreation areas, the closest being Attleboro.
Frisk said she consulted a number of existing laws and resolutions before assembling the proposed legislation.
“I looked at Cumberland, Central Falls and other states as well, including California and New York,” she said. “I took the best from all the possibilities and tried to provide language for the city clerk to develop a model ordinance.”
The proposal says the smoke-free play zones include, but are not limited to, Cass Park, Globe Park, Dunn Park, Costa Park, Cold Spring Park, Bernon Park, Kendrick Playground, Phyllis Thomas Park, River’s Edge Complex, River Island Park, Soucy Falls, Bouley Field, Menard Field, Ayotte Field, Hartnett Field, Dionne Track and Renaud Field.
Carcifero says the prevention coalition received a $60,000 grant from DOH that will be used, in part, to erect no-smoking signs at the parks.
“I support it,” Mayor Leo T. Fontaine says of the proposed legislation. “The task force has done a lot to protect youths from the dangers of smoking, and this would also help keep the parks clean. There shouldn’t be so many cigarette butts littering public places.”