There is scientific evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke in outdoor locations may be just as harmful as being exposed indoors. According to the July 2011 Project Action Tobacco-Free Coalition Community Survey, most adult area residents are in favor of tobaccofree outdoor areas and 86 percent of Fulton County residents and 79 percent of Montgomery County residents are in favor of tobacco-free playgrounds. This is due in part to the growing awareness of the environmental impact of tobacco litter, dangers of secondhand smoke and influence on children when tobacco use is not restricted.
Tobacco litter is poisonous to children, pets and wildlife. Our playgrounds, pools, parks and beaches should not be used as ashtrays. Discarded cigarette butts are the most common form of litter, and cleanup of tobacco litter from recreational areas is costly. Cigarette butts contain the tars absorbed by the filter and levels of bacteria from smokers' mouths and lungs. Children routinely pick up cigarette butts and try to place them in their mouths, exposing them to many diseases.
People go to recreation areas to exercise or relax, not to use tobacco. Family recreation for children should not mean having to play among cigarette butts or being exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke contributes to and causes dozens of diseases and illnesses, including asthma, heart disease, respiratory infections and ear infections. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a class A carcinogen, placing it in the same category as radon, benzene and asbestos. Because their lungs are so much smaller, children breathe in 50 percent more air than an adult, making them more susceptible to the dangers of tobacco smoke.
Children model adult behavior. When children see adults smoking in family-friendly places such as playgrounds, parks and at athletic events, they see smoking as acceptable. Tobacco-free policies help prevent youth tobacco use by showing adults as tobacco-free role models throughout the community. More than 300 municipalities have tobacco-free outdoor policies for local parks, playgrounds and beaches. Additionally, smoke-free areas promote smoking cessation for those trying to quit and prevent those from starting.
We all need to be responsible adults and do our part to help keep our children, our community and ourselves safe and healthy. Together we can make a difference. If you would like more information on tobacco free outdoor places, call Project Action at 841-7288 or visit www.TobaccoFreeNYS.org.
Community health educator,
Montgomery County Public Health
and Project Action Anti-Tobacco Coalition