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McKeesport snuffs tobacco use in city's parks and playgrounds

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 8:44 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Tryston Stokes, 3, of McKeesport and his grandmother Laura Bosnak Thompson can continue to enjoy a tobacco-free environment at the city's parks and playgrounds.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Jeremiah Watson, 3, of McKeesport makes his way across a zip line at the city's newly smoke-free Christy Park Playground under the watchful eye of his mother Nicole Watson.

McKeesport's parks and playgrounds now are tobacco-free zones.

Council gave the designation to areas where children typically gather and play, unanimously adopting an ordinance this month.

City administrator Matt Gergely said there will be designated smoking areas during city-sponsored events and when pavilions are rented for private activities.

“I think it's a good thing to do,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “With what research shows now in regards to secondhand and thirdhand smoke and how it can be detrimental to children, I think it's an absolutely wonderful thing to make it tobacco free.”

The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for more than 440,000 deaths each year, or nearly one out of every five, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statistics show nearly 4,000 people younger than 18 smoke their first cigarette each day, and an estimated 1,000 in that age group become new daily cigarette smokers.

“I also think it ties into our city-wide respect campaign,” Cherepko said. “It's an opportunity for the youth to know about respecting others and about self-respect and what you need to do in order to take care of your own health. It doesn't set a good example if you have adults or young adults at the playgrounds and are engaging in these types of activities.”

The city will place signs at each area identifying them as tobacco-free areas. Any person violating the ordinance can be fined up to $300 and court costs. Those who do not pay the fines, once convicted, may be imprisoned for no more than 30 days.

Gergely said the police and park security guards will enforce the ordinance.

McKeesport operates six playgrounds and seven parks.

Resident Laura Bosnak Thompson was in Christy Park Playground with her 3-year-old grandson, Tryston Stokes, on Tuesday. They were playing with fellow resident Nicole Watson and her 2-year-old son, Jeremiah Watson.

“It's a really good feeling to be able to take my grandson to a park and not have to worry about him playing in a cloud of smoke and the secondhand effects of it,” Thompson said.

“I'd love to be able to do that,” said Nicole Watson. “We don't smoke. I never have, so I don't want my children exposed to it, either.”

Parks and recreation director Jim Brown said the city and UPMC McKeesport were working on a tobacco-free initiative about four or five years ago in response to complaints from guests at Renziehausen Park.

“People were asking if there was a smoke-free area to go,” Brown said. “At the time we never did have anywhere like that, but that was something that we were looking to put in place. I think it's a good thing for us, and I'm glad that they finally passed the ordinance.”

A staff member at the hospital said on Tuesday that it no longer has a smoking cessation program.

Members of Tobacco Free Allegheny, a part of the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, also spoke with McKeesport officials months ago about making parks and playgrounds tobacco free. Those talks stalled, and the ordinance passed this month was the result of city discussions.

“We would like to think we helped start the conversation,” Tobacco Free Allegheny executive director Vicki Sirockman said.

“There was interaction between the two organizations,” Gergely said. “I think they're happy to hear we've come to some resolution. We'll open the lines of communication.”

Tobacco Free Allegheny program assistant Brittany Huffman said McKeesport is the 44th municipality in the county to make parks and playgrounds tobacco free.

Sirockman said Tobacco Free Allegheny is excited about McKeesport's actions, and would love to help provide signs and make the parks and playgrounds successful.

Cherepko said the city is working with local magistrates and law enforcement to make playgrounds safe zones, which would provide for stricter punishments for any law violation.

“The ultimate goal is to curb the addiction of crime and violence at its source, which is the youth,” the mayor said.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or

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