By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — Town officials are taking steps to restrict smoking in public places.
At its May 17 meeting, the Town Board unanimously agreed to adopt a resolution that would immediately ban smoking in all public parks, trails, and nature preserves.
While New York State has anti-smoking laws that prohibit the use of cigarettes indoors, Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said board members wanted to extend the policy to outdoor public space.
“The Town Board felt that, at this juncture, it would be prudent to implement a blanket ban on smoking in our parks,” he said. Barrett, who has frequented parks around town to watch his sons play sports, especially the Clifton Common, said that while he hasn’t necessarily seen people smoking near playgrounds and fields, there is evidence of smoking, specifically discarded cigarette butts, in more secluded areas.
Barrett said the litter, and the fact that secondhand smoke has the potential to travel into other areas, was enough of an incentive to clamp down.
“For those reasons, we believe that it was time for a blanket ban,” he said. Violators of the ban won’t face any official sanctions, however.
Barrett said the town isn’t looking to start handing out fines and tickets. Instead, signs will be put up to warn against smoking. Parkgoers, Barrett said, aren’t shy when it comes to asking people not to smoke in outdoor areas. Noting that non-smoking laws have become more mainstream now, Barrett added that the town will rely on park and town workers to remind people of the rules, should a situation arise in which a person is smoking in a non-smoking area.
For its anti-smoking effort, Clifton Park is partnering with the Living Tobacco-Free Initiative, a grant effort funded by the New York Bureau of Tobacco Control Program. Living Tobacco Free aims to educate community leaders and the public about the dangers and social costs of tobacco use, as well as promoting policies that restrict the tobacco industry’s presence, de-normalize tobacco use and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.
“We want it to be a widespread community effort, so the partnerships are key,” Barrett said.
The town is in the process of customizing and ordering signs from Living Tobacco Free. Town spokesman Matt Andrus said he couldn’t provide a date for when the signs will go up.
Heather LaSalvia, program coordinator of the Living Tobacco-Free initiative, said Clifton Park’s effort is unique because the town reached out to her organization for assistance. LaSalvia explained that, though the organization will provide the signs to the town, it mainly serves as an advisory force to help municipalities enact anti-smoking programs.
According to LaSalvia, the percentage of teenagers smoking has decreased over the past decade. According to the New York State Department of Health, the adult smoking population is at an all-time low — 2.2 million — and the high school smoking population is also at a historic low: 88,000.
But, said LaSalvia, the use of new products like electronic cigarettes, is increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes e-cigarettes as a “rapidly emerging trend among youth and young adults.”
While LaSalvia admitted that data regarding the harmful effects of electronic cigarette use is scarce, and research into such products is still in its early stages, her organization is not encouraging their use.
Some efforts to cut down on e-cigarette use are being made. Last week, the New York State Assembly passed legislation that would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is also banned.
According to LaSalvia, the same companies that advertised and promoted cigarette use are now promoting the use of electronic cigarettes, but consumers are not necessarily paying attention to that fact. For example, blu Cigs, a company that manufactures and sells electronic cigarettes, is owned by Imperial Brands a multi-national, multi-billion dollar tobacco company.
“People aren’t making that connection,” LaSalvia said.