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King County poised to join local communities that support tobacco-free policies in busiest areas of parks

King County would join a growing list of local parks, hospitals and schools with policies for tobacco-free areas under a proposed ordinance sent last week to the King County Council to prohibit tobacco use in the busiest areas of the County's expansive parks system.

"When people come to a public park, they expect to breathe fresh air – not someone else's cigarettes," said King County Executive Dow Constantine, citing a survey of county residents in which more than 70 percent said they support smoke-free public places, including parks.

The proposed ordinance would mean visitors to County parks could no longer use tobacco in heavily-used park areas such as children's playgrounds, athletic fields, picnic shelters and trailheads.

Compliance would be voluntary, much like for littering, failure to keep a dog on a leash, or alcohol use in a park; enforcement would occur only when problems are reported. A federal grant will pay for signs denoting tobacco-free areas.

Council adoption of the ordinance would align King County with 11 local governments representing more than 1 million residents that have already adopted rules prohibiting or limiting tobacco use in parks. They include Auburn, Black Diamond, Bothell, Burien, Covington, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Seattle, Shoreline, Snoqualmie, and the Vashon Park District.

In Washington state, more than 45 cities in 15 counties have smoke-free parks policies, including Tacoma Metro Parks in Pierce County, and Marysville and Lake Stevens in Snohomish County.

A universal "tobacco-free parks" sign has been created for jurisdictions to post in their parks. Each jurisdiction that has adopted or plans to adopt a tobacco- or smoke-free policy will have the opportunity to post this sign as part of the regional partnership for tobacco-free parks. Tobacco-free efforts by local cities and King County are supported by Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a federal grant to address obesity and tobacco use.

Tobacco-free parks are part of a broad movement to create healthy and smoke-free areas, especially for kids and the most vulnerable. In recent months many hospitals, housing providers, and mental health and chemical dependency centers have also gone smoke-free.

In King County alone, tobacco causes almost 2,000 premature deaths and costs over $340 million in medical expenses and lost wages each year. In addition to the health effects, cigarette butts can account for up to 70 percent of litter in public places. Cigarette butts can take up to 15 years to decompose, leaching chemicals into the soil and posing harm to small children and pets if ingested.

"The City of Auburn is committed to creating a healthy community," said Mayor Pete Lewis. "The Tobacco-free Park Policy is intended to assist recreational organizations and parents in their efforts to recreate in a tobacco-free environment. It is important that we recognize the effects of first and second-hand smoke and discourage tobacco usage at places where youth are gathered and healthy lifestyle activities are available."

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