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Smoking ban headed to council
Ordinance now forbids electronic cigarettes
park smoking pic1
Smokers, like this man at Donnelly Park, will have to refrain from lighting up in Turlock parks. - photo by Journal file photo


The Turlock Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission approved a reaffirmation of a smoking ban dating back from 2003 Tuesday night in a 6-2 vote, with one new caveat: electronic and vapor related products will now be prohibited as well, pending the approval of the City Council.

Girl Scout Troup 3289 originally brought the item to the commission in August urging the commissioners to consider the negative health effects of second hand smoke. Also citing the fact that children model adult influences as a major proponent of their argument, Ken Fitzgerald of the Stanislaus County Office of Education prevention programs backed the troop’s efforts. He touted the recent implementation of newly smoke-free city of Patterson which utilized SCOE services to become the first tobacco free town in the county.

During the multi-month discussion raised by the local Girl Scouts, the City of Turlock staff discovered that a resolution prohibiting smoking was already in place since 2003 when the Turlock Regional Sports Complex was established. The prohibition was presented to the council by the Parks and Recreation Commission prior to its merging with the Art Commission just a few months ago.

 While the former commission and council approved the banning of smoking, which Recreation and Public Facilities Superintendent Erik Schulze says is enforceable according to the city attorney, for the sake of transparency Shulze prepared a full report for the present commissioners and augmented the resolution to include the ban of electronic and vapor emitting devices which were not available in 2003. While the item garnered enough votes to be forwarded to the City Council, not all commissioners were on board.

“It pits people against one another and that’s no way to establish community,” said Commissioner Jeremy Rocha who cast a dissenting vote alongside Commissioner Sergio Alvarado.

“It’s kind of ironic because the Girl Scouts who brought this item to the commission and vocalized concerns about the health risks of tobacco also have GMOs in their cookies,” said Alvarado.

Both commissioners said they are supportive of the local Girl Scouts civic engagement but do not fundamentally agree with the smoking ban.

Alvarado exhibited skepticism on Tuesday of the resolution due to the fact that it does not take into account the geographic location of the smoker in proximity to non-smokers at the park. Also, there is no scientific evidence to prove the electronic smoking devices are harmful through second hand smoke.

“We can’t make a law on what hasn’t been proven yet with science, “said Alvarado, noting that the spacious parks provide plenty of room for nonsmokers to distance themselves from second hand smoke. “Outside I don’t think the logic applies.”

Commissioner Larry Yeakel, who ultimately voted to approve the reaffirmation, did ask how the City intends to implement this ban to avoid a repeat of the 2003 confusion.  

“The goal would be education first,” said Shulze, who noted that staff level administrative citations would likely be given to repeat offenders.

If the council approves the item the City of Turlock will likely work with Fitzgerald for implementation practices.

While two commissioners voted against the reaffirmation of the smoking ban, they were not the only ones to take a stand against the ban. At the August meeting, when the Girl Scouts originally spoke, Turlocker Larry Clinton submitted a rebuttal stating “You don’t want people to not smoke in the park. You don’t want them smoking at all.”

While self-proclaimed smoker Clinton 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.

 “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,” said Clinton.

Commissioner Rocha echoed the same sentiment stating that “Government paternalism is not stronger than a parental connection.”

The Parks, Art, and Recreation Commission meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.