Anti-tobacco resolution approved

PARKERSBURG -A resolution which prohibits tobacco products within 15 feet of city playgrounds will go back to city council for consideration.

The city’s public works committee approved the resolution without changes Tuesday following a spirited discussion.

The resolution was referred to committee two weeks ago by the full city council after member John Kelly questioned whether the city or the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department should enforce such rules.

Jamie Jacobson, a regional tobacco prevention coordinator with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, urging the committee and council to pass the resolution.

Jacobson said while the health department has the right to ban tobacco products in certain public areas, “right now we don’t have the manpower to do it.”

Jacobson said second-hand smoke and tobacco waste pose health risks to young children and create large amounts of litter. Mayor Bob Newell agreed, and said preventing the litter is one of the main reasons he is in favor of a city resolution.

“I’ve had complaints about teenagers smoking in the playgrounds,” he said. We don’t have the manpower to clean up all of that. Keeping these places clean is difficult and that’s the real benefit I see.”

Several council members objected. Councilman Roger Brown accused the health department of harming area businesses with smoking regulations, and Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox bluntly told Jacobson “you are infringing on my rights because I’m a smoker.”

Kelly questioned how the city would define playgrounds, arguing with Newell the city could label any areas used by children, such as the city basketball and tennis courts, as playgrounds. Newell said only areas with playground equipment intended for children would be considered playgrounds, but Kelly disagreed.

“We’re splitting hairs and being ridiculous,” Newell said.

“I don’t think I am being ridiculous,” Kelly said.

“If you need a definition I’m giving you one, it’s playground equipment,” Newell said. “You asked for a definition and there it is.”

If the full city council approves the resolution in two weeks, Jacobson said the health department would provide signs to post in those areas declaring them tobacco-free zones.

Jacobson said those areas would be for the most part “self enforcing,” but Newell and city attorney Joe Santer said they believe police can issue citations the same as for any violation of park rules, such as an open fire or misuse of equipment.

“If a police officer sees someone they can cite them just the same as a speeding ticket,” Newell said.

Santer also disagreed with council members asserting the city was infringing on the rights of smokers.

“It’s our park. We control our own park. We can police our own parks,” he said. “I can appreciate smokers saying they have the right to smoke anywhere they want, but you don’t. You shouldn’t. You can’t do it in places where you would harm another’s health, and we’re talking about small children here.”

Newell said if council members did not believe playground mulch was filled with tobacco trash, they should investigate it for themselves.

“Table this for a few weeks and city council can get together a couple of Saturdays and go pick up this stuff and see if you want to put up some signs,” he said. “See what these kids are crawling through.”

In other business, the city passed the first reading of an ordinance bringing the city’s building code up to date with changes made at the state level by the West Virginia Fire Commission.