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Local fumes over potential smoking ban
park smoking pic1
Girl Scout troop members from Turlock are championing an effort to rid Turlock's park of smoking. - photo by Journal file photo

Every morning Larry Clinton walks his dogs to the park and lights up his morning cigarette. A smoker since 1956, Clinton’s morning ritual is one of the few habits that he enjoys but the Turlock Girl Scouts of Troop 3289 are threatening to take that away.

At the City of Turlock’s August Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission meeting the local Girl Scouts asked the commissioners to consider banning smoking at all City parks due to health concerns. On Wednesday the girls made a second presentation before the commissioners with the support of Regional Health and Safety Planning Coordinator Ken Fitzgerald of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Having collected 172 signatures in favor of tobacco-free parks at the Turlock Regional Sports Complex in just two and a half hours, eight Girl Scouts urged the commissioners to consider a ban on smoking at City parks for several reasons. Citing the Surgeon General’s opposition to smoking and the risks of secondhand smoke as cause for concern regarding Turlock’s smoking laws which meet the minimum anti-tobacco requirements, the Girl Scouts stressed the impact that smoking has on children.

“Another reason that we should have tobacco-free parks is because children model adult influences. So if adults smoke or use tobacco products in parks then the children may start copying that behavior,” explained Girl Scout Collette Sommerville.

According to Fitzgerald, Patterson is the most recent town in the Stanislaus County to adopt a comprehensive tobacco-free parks policy which bans traditional as well as electronic cigarettes, which emit water vapor.

“Overall in the long run tobacco-free policies in general are effective at helping people quit smoking, at reducing tobacco litter in the areas where the policies are implemented, and in reducing secondhand smoke exposure in those areas,” said Fitzgerald.

The decision to also prohibit e-cigarettes despite the decreased risk of secondhand smoke from these cigarettes is due to the fact that the mere smoking gesture around children may prove negatively influential.

“Policies like this are about social norm change and community change,” said Fitzgerald.

However, according to Carter the onus ought to be placed on parents to cultivate healthy habits and not government officials.

“You don’t want people to not smoke in the park. You don’t want them smoking at all,” said Carter in response to the Girl Scouts who provided information that on the risks of smoking itself. “I can understand people wanting to keep their kids away from the smoking environment, yes, but their role model is going to be their parents more than likely. It isn’t going to be Joe Blow sitting down at the park.”

While Carter conceded that smoking is not a healthy habit, he vocalized concern over whether it is under the City’s authority to determine where people smoke especially if it means he cannot smoke at the park even if he is the only person there.

 “You’re trying to take a freedom away and we’ve already lost enough freedoms,” said Carter.

The Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission will vote on whether or not to implement a tobacco-free parks policy at their next meeting. If passed, the item will be forwarded to the City Council for a vote.

The Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission meets on the second Wednesday of each month.