Playground tobacco ban would carry fine

PARKERSBURG – If Parkersburg City Council approves a new rule prohibiting tobacco products at city playgrounds, violators could find themselves paying a very stiff penalty.

A resolution to create a rule prohibiting tobacco products, which would include cigarettes, cigars, pipes and all smokeless tobacco products, within 15 feet of a city playground was approved Tuesday by a 5-0 vote of the City Council Public Works Committee. The resolution will be up for a vote of the full City Council on Oct. 8.

During last Tuesday’s meeting, officials were asked about enforcement and penalties, but at the time could not cite specific code outlining those details.

Mayor Bob Newell said the new rule would fall under Municipal Code 959.01: Offenses in Connection with City Parks, which specifies any misuse of parks, from disturbing the peace to damage to the park to ignoring or violating any posted rule or signage, could result in a fine of up to $500.

“Whatever rules we put into place, anybody who violates any of those rules or regulations, the penalty is up to $500,” Newell said. The amount would be determined at a later time, he said.

“They would be cited into City Court and it would be up to the judge to decide what to fine them, up to $500,” he said. “That covers anything in the city parks.”

The municipal code stiffens the penalty slightly for areas designated as nature preserves, setting the fine at a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500. The general parks penalty does not specify a minimum.

During the committee meeting, Chief Joe Martin said like any of the park rules, police officers would not be patroling those areas specifically looking for those offenses, but if one was spotted, a citation would be issued.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department has offered to post signs at city playgrounds proclaiming them “tobacco-free zones.” A health official said the department has the right to create non-smoking and tobacco-free zones in outside public areas, but lacks the manpower to enforce those rules.

A ban on indoor smoking in public areas is already in effect for West Virginia and on May 1 will not allow for any excemptions. Some businesses have been operating with limited indoor smoking areas.