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Tobacco ban in parks lights up controversy

March 21, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

Recent bans on smoking in public parks have drawn a variety of supporters and critics to weigh in on the issue.

Locally, Fonda banned smoking in its Recreation Park, and Gloversville followed by banning smoking in its parks.

However, a Fulton County Board of Supervisors committee declined to prohibit smoking within 25 feet of county-owned or leased buildings. A local health Professional Advisory committee had proposed the restriction. However, supervisors were concerned the prohibition might violate the rights of smokers.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

Part of the Recreation?Park in?Fonda is shown Thursday.

Denise Frederick, the county public health administrator, told the board Montgomery County has a similar prohibition.

"We have a very high proportion of people who smoke," she told the supervisors.

According to the state Department of Health's Expanded Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Study - essentially a telephone survey - conducted in July 2008 to June 2009, about 24 percent of adults smoke in Fulton County. The state average is about 17 percent.

"The percentage of adult residents in Fulton County who are current smokers is statistically significantly greater than the percentage of adult residents who are current smokers in New York State," according to a Prevention Agenda Report issued to the state Department of Health in January.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site - - an estimated 46 million people, or 20.6 percent of all adults, in the U.S. currently smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is more common among men than women, about 23 percent to 18 percent, the Web site said.

The percentage of smokers in the country is spread out fairly evenly among adults age 18 to 64 years old, before dropping among those age 65 years and older, the Web site said. According to the numbers at the Web site, adults with a GED diploma were about four times as likely to smoke cigarettes as someone with an undergraduate college degree, with about 41 percent compared to 11 percent. Adults who live below the poverty level were more likely to smoke than adults above, about 32 percent compared to 20 percent, the Web site said.

A BRFSS Report done for Montgomery County from July 2008 to June 2009 found about 23 percent of adults residing in the county were smokers.

However, Sue Arminio, the program coordinator for Project Action of Hamilton, Fulton & Montgomery Counties, said a community survey done for the organization in July 2009 found Montgomery County actually had the highest percentage of adults who smoked in the Capital region, at 26 percent.

Arminio discussed the results of the survey during a meeting with the Village Board in Fonda in February. At the meeting, the board voted unanimously to ban tobacco smoking in the village's public park and around the entrance to the municipal building. The ban was the first of its kind in the county.

Arminio said Tuesday the basic idea behind the ban on smoking in parks is to make them healthier places for people to visit and for children to play.

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Rachel Truckenmiller, the project coordinator for ASAPP's Promise, which works closely with Project Action, said the policy will help protect children from secondhand smoke. She said it is among a number of policies - such as higher taxes on cigarettes and education on the effects of smoking - that people will see benefits from in healthier citizens in the future.

"I realize people who smoke often feel like they are being picked on, but that is not the case," he said.

The Gloversville Common Council of Gloversville also enacted a smoking ban in city parks in February.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said the city is not out to punish people, but people need to respect the rights of others. He noted some people who use the city parks, including the mentally handicapped, may not have the ability to ask someone who is smoking to stop if it is bothering them.

Project Action will provide signs to the municipalities indicating smoking is not allowed in the parks.

King said that, similar to seatbelt laws, if a person is not seen smoking in a park, they can probably get away with it.

"We can at least discourage it, and when we see it we can enforce it," he said.

King said if a police officer sees someone smoking in a city park and the person refuses to put out their cigarette, it will probably result in a charge of disorderly conduct.

Gloversville 2nd Ward Councilman John Castiglione voted against the ban.

Castiglione said it may have been worthwhile for the council to consider establishing a designated smoking area in the parks, similar to what it did when smoking was prohibited in front of City Hall. He said there are people who use the parks and smoke and it seemed unfair to just change the law leaving them no place to smoke.

However, he said he also questioned how easily the law could be enforced.

"We can't handle the blight enforcement in this city, and they want to do this?" he said.

Castiglione said he is a non-smoker and understands why other council members supported the law. But he questions how much time the police will realistically have to enforce it.

"If you're going to pass a law, make sure you can enforce it," Castiglione said.



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