A county Legislature vote on a proposed partial “smoke-free” policy for Niagara County parks was postponed Tuesday.
Privately, some members of the Republican-led majority caucus asked for more time to review the language of the proposed policy and hear “both sides” of the surprising debate that’s erupted, according to Legislature Chairman William Ross, C-Wheatfield.
Legislators including Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, and Vincent Sandonato, R-Niagara Falls, have opposed erection of signs in county parks declaring child-centered areas to be “smoke free.” In a recent legislative committee, they and Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, and Tony Nemi, I-Lockport, voiced concerns the signs would suggest a law against smoking in the parks, and enforcement that would not be forthcoming because there is no such law. Also, Sandonato and Wojtaszek suggested, the signs, and the policy, are paternalistic.
Signs reading “Breathe easy: Our park is smoke-free, please don’t smoke or litter,” and/or “Young lungs at play: This is a tobacco-free zone,” would be placed at beaches, playgrounds, splash parks, restrooms, warming houses and athletic fields, according to the authorizing resolution. Enforcement would be by “voluntary compliance” of park visitors only, it says.
In anticipation of a vote, several county residents and Anthony Billoni, coordinator of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition that asked the county to post the signs, signed up to address the Legislature on Tuesday.
Billoni said the point of the signs is simply to discourage adult smoking around children, to keep second-hand smoke away from them and also model good, “healthy” behavior for them.
“It does not seek to make smoking illegal,” Billoni said. “It simply establishes smoke-free areas ... .”
Area hospitals and higher-education institutions including Niagara University have declared their campuses to be 100 percent smoke-free without repercussions, Billoni said. A majority of county residents, including smokers, favor smoke-free child play areas, he asserted.
Rick Cohen, manager of Transit Drive-In, told the Legislature about his decision to ban smoking on the drive-in grounds beginning this year. The business has been open six weeks and reviews are favorable, he said.
“It was a business decision. I felt it was the best way to ensure the comfort of my customers,” he said. “(Smoking) is an offensive habit to be around, especially if you have kids.”
In contrast, resident Nancy Bye carried a neon-orange poster board to the public speakers’ podium reading “I am not a leper!”
Bye, a smoker, takes her grandchildren to local parks frequently and says she doesn’t need any instruction in smoking etiquette from the county.
“I am a considerate smoker. I don’t smoke near the kids,” she said. “Gimme a break. You can’t smoke here, you can’t smoke there, now you can’t smoke at the park?
“Uh-uh, not gonna happen,” she added emphatically.
The comments didn’t change legislator Sandonato’s thinking about the proposed policy. The sign that proclaims county parks are “smoke-free” is deceptive, he said; and adults shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for engaging in a legal activity.
Ross, who says he’s a “staunch” supporter of the policy, will have Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton address the Legislature at its June 1 meeting.
“He’s a little disturbed (by opposition to the policy) and he should be,” Ross said. “The good points of the policy far outweigh the negatives. ... Smoking causes heartache.”