Auburn parks make a pitch to clear the air

City council hears proposal for smoking and vaping ban in city parks and park buildings

Cancer and heart disease are the two leading causes of death in the city of Auburn, where 20 percent of its residents identify as smokers.

Those are among the factors that put Auburn residents at a higher health risk than the rest of King County.

Within the county, e-cigarette use among students increased from 3 percent to 14 percent between 2012 and 2014, and by 2014, nearly one in five students was using a tobacco product.

So say numbers compiled on the King County Public Health site.

The Auburn City Council is studying an Auburn Parks Board proposal that would ban smoking and vaping in all of its parks and park’s buildings, excluding the Auburn Golf Course. The council is receptive to the idea and wants to examine it further before city staff can consider working on a draft ordinance.

Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Daryl Faber pitched the idea to the city council during a work session Monday at City Hall.

“If you look at the statistics on the King County Health Department site, Auburn is in the bottom four of the 20 cities regarding youth smoking and vaping and its affect on public health,” Faber said, noting that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.

If the ordinance, which is in step with the goals of the Healthy Auburn 2020 Blue Ribbon Committee, follows the city of Kent’s “Just Breathe” campaign as its champions expect, it would modify all permit, rental and tournament paperwork and prohibit noncombustible products, like e-cigarettes or other vaping devices that produce smoke or vapor, and dipping tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, and combustible products, like paper cigarettes, cigarillos, or cigars, pipes, and hookahs.

Here’s what the Parks Board had to say in its write-up to the city:

“One of the primary purposes and functions of a public park,” the board wrote, “is to provide safe, welcoming places for all genders, faiths, ethnicities and abilities to enjoy and pursue physical activity, healthy lifestyles and leisure experiences through nature, which have been proven to assist in combating chronic disease, an increased prevalence of sedentary lifestyles, stress reduction and poor nutrition habits. Parks and open spaces contribute to a healthier Auburn community. Smoking and tobacco use in parks is contrary to this goal.

“The issue is not about protecting the rights of some people who smoke; rather a smoking/tobacco restriction in parks is about protecting the rights of everyone to have a smoke free environment while visiting their parks,” the board wrote.

Yes, the board concedes, smoking and vaping may still occur in parks, ordinance or no ordinance, as being caught puffing, vaping or chewing are not likely to be on the police department’s list of priorities.

“But if the health and experience of any park visitors is positively affected, then we’ve created a better public space,” the board wrote.

Faber expects opposition to the proposal, adding that if such a ban were put in place, there would need to be a campaign rollout, signage and some degree of enforcement.

“You have to have a great communication team,” Faber told the council. “The goal isn’t to be arresting our way out of smoke. I doubt if it will happen at all. … The goal is to be able to approach somebody and just say that ‘smoking isn’t allowed at Auburn parks. Could you please refrain?’ And if there’s some kind of backup needed, you could have a police person contacted. …

“The goal is to enlighten people to the risk of smoking (at) public spaces and parks, especially events like Petpalooza. Everybody goes there to enjoy these events, and your action is causing a reaction on the other person,” Faber said of the goal of the policy change.

Faber pointed out that a majority of South Sound cities have created smoke and vape free parks.

“I think as the message gets out, people will have a better understanding,” said Councilman Claude DaCorsi. “For the most part, people are going to be compliant with this.”

Pat Bailey, a retired nurse with the Healthy Auburn 2020 Blue Ribbon Committee, told council members:

“I want you to know that it was from the south end (of Auburn) several months ago, several Latino moms came up to me and said, ‘Is there anything that you can do about the tobacco use and the smoking in our parks? We can’t take our kids there anymore. There are so many clouds of smoke. Our kids can’t walk through into the park.’ … That says a lot right there.”

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A few relevant facts:

• Washington State Law prohibits smoking in all indoor public spaces; to light up, one must be 25 feet from a building’s nearest entrance;

• Washington State Law prohibits the use of all tobacco products on school property and grounds;

• Washington State Law prohibits smoking or consuming marijuana in view of the public; and,

• The city of Auburn’s 2008 Personnel Policy sets out the city’s commitment to achieving a tobacco-free work environment.

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