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State considering trial smoking ban at two parks

| Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Murrysville council discussed the potential for developing a policy or ordinance to address smoking in municipal parks. Options have included displaying tobacco-free signs and creating a designated smoking area.
Cigarette butts litter the parking lot at the beach at Keystone State Park on July 6, 2012 near New Alexandria. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is considering a trial smoking ban at two of Pennsylvania's 120 parks in response to complaints about litter, particularly cigarette butts discarded in lakes and on beaches, an official said.

Policy at state parks, including Point State Park, forbids lighting up inside structures but allows smoking outdoors.

Officials haven't selected the test sites for next year's ban, said Terry Brady, deputy press secretary, but they want one park with a body of water. Cleaning cigarettes from beaches, particularly filtered cigarettes that do not decompose quickly, keeps employees from working on other projects, he said. He did not provide cleanup costs.

“We're moving toward some type of restriction, that's for sure,” Brady said.

Michelle Warren, 57, of Monroeville regularly smokes while strolling through Point State Park during her lunch break.

“If they want to eliminate smoking, then they need to stop the sale of cigarettes,” Warren said. “If I can't buy them, I can't very well smoke them. They knew when they put them out there that they were dangerous, anyway. They allowed them to be sold; let me smoke them.”

Though no date is set for a trial ban, if it's successful it could lead to a smoking ban at all state parks, Brady said.

Dan Bickel, park operations manager of Moraine State Park in Butler County, said lifeguards and park representatives advise smokers to move away from crowded areas to light up but no written laws prevent visitors from lighting up in crowds.

“We haven't had any complaints about people smoking outside, so we don't really see it as an issue at this time,” Bickel said. “We tend to gauge problems based on visitor complaints and we've gotten very few about smoking.”

Thirty-four Allegheny County municipalities banned smoking in parks, including seven this year — Dravosburg, McKees Rocks, Monroeville, North Versailles, Robinson, Stowe and Wall — as part of Pennsylvania's Young Lungs at Play program, which aims to reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke.

Young Lungs at Play provides resources to communities that consider smoking bans, such as sample ordinances or resolutions and free no-smoking signs once an ordinance is adopted.

Banning smoking in parks prevents not just litter but secondhand smoke, said Cindy Thomas, executive director of Tobacco Free Allegheny, which administers the local branch of Young Lungs at Play. A smoking ban might keep children from imitating parents who smoke.

“If we can eliminate the number of places where kids see adult smoking, fewer kids will smoke later in life,” Thomas said.

Westmoreland County has not banned smoking at any of its parks but has tobacco-free zones in areas such as playgrounds, said Dan Carpenter, communications coordinator for the county's Parks and Recreation Department.

“We've heard from parents. Parents appreciate that the places where little kids are, it's not allowed there,” he said. “We know it's a major issue across the country and the state and we are constantly evaluating the right amount of usage in parks.”

Monroeville Councilman Nick Gresock supported that municipality's decision to ban smoking in its parks.

“It's really just about people and children enjoying fresh activities and getting fresh air,” Gresock said. “And cigarette smoke does not tie in with that.”

Adam Wagner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7956 or adamwagner@tribweb.com.

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