Upshur County Tobacco Coalition members spoke recently to the Buckhannon City Council, requesting support of a policy that would prohibit the use of tobacco in public parks and recreational facilities in the city.
Some councilmen and city officials appeared to favor the concept, but had concerns about the policy.
Joyce Harris-Thacker and Amanda Hayes, members of the tobacco coalition, adapted the policy they presented to council from Clarksburg, changing only the name of the city. They are hopeful that the same policy enacted in Buckhannon would reduce second-hand smoke, eliminate confusion of which facilities are tobacco-free, reduce litter and show kids that smoking is not OK.
City attorney David McCauley expressed his concern that the policy would need a penalty to be enforced. He said if an activity is prohibited, a criminal sanction is required. If the Buckhannon City Council adopts a criminal sanction, it would require an ordinance rather than a policy.
"I support the council's movement in that direction if that's where you want to go," McCauley said. "But we need to think it through."
The council did not make a decision and will continue to review the matter.
"There's a movement in the community, that they would really like to see you pass this policy," Hayes said, adding that some members of the community cannot come to public events because of the dangers of second-hand smoke because of asthma or other health reasons. She said there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
"I'm quite in favor of such a policy, but I'm also not a smoker and never have been," City Recorder Richard Clemens said. "I really don't care for the smoke. I'm glad that our restaurants are smoke-free and so on, but that's not universally accepted."
Harris-Thacker said that she thinks business has boomed since the indoor smoking ban for public restaurants was enacted.
She said it was because people who would otherwise have stayed at home could now eat out, even if smoking is still somewhat of an issue at restaurant entrances.
"When I go to places, even outside of restaurant doors, I've suffered through people smoking," she said. "Literally, I have to rush by and hold my breath. That's infringing on my rights. They can have their counter-claim, and they have the right to do that. But it's my air, too."
Clemens suggested having an area of the public parks designated for smoking, but Councilman Ron Pugh said that would depend on which way the wind blew as to where the smoke would travel.
"I can tell you right now, there is no tobacco smoke-free zone anywhere," he said.
Harris-Thacker was opposed to the idea of designated smoking areas in public parks.
"I think designating an area would be that much harder to enforce, in my opinion, than it would be to just declare the recreations, parks and facilities smoke free and see how it goes," Harris-Thacker said.
"We all have rights to smoke. We have rights not to smoke." Pugh said. "I think it should be that, if we have the smoke-free zones in our parks, then the smokers out there should honor that and be nice enough to go across the street or go some place if they have to have a cigarette."
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.