Auburn snuffs out smoking, vaping, tobacco use in parks

Ordinance aligns with city’s Blue Ribbon Committee goals

In his 39 years of practice in Auburn, retired surgeon Bruce Wandler witnessed smoking’s ghastly consequences on human beings.

Treated cancer-riddled lungs, smoking-induced cancers and malignancies too many to count. Wandler told the Auburn City Council on Monday evening as it weighed a total ban on smoking and vaping in all city parks.

“Activity in outdoor parks for public recreation should be a healthy activity, whether being a spectator or a participant,” Wandler told the council before its vote.

Elias Herrera recalled his mother-in law, gone too soon, who had never smoked or vaped, but who died seven months ago from pulmonary fibrosis contracted, he said, from second-hand smoke.

“It hits in the heart,” Herrera said of his mother in law.

Wandler and Herrera were only two of many Auburn residents to take up the cudgels for the ban before the council made it official on Monday evening.

“This is definitely something we need in our city to protect our youth, and it’s also public safety, and that’s something that every one of us has taken an oath on,” said City Councilmember Yolanda Trout-Manuel.

According to the King County Public Health site, 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. 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.

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

“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.

The ordinance is in step with the goals of the Healthy Auburn 2020 Blue Ribbon Committee, and follows the city of Kent’s “Just Breathe” campaign.

Its passage requires the city to revamp permit, rental and tournament paperwork to 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 Auburn Parks Board had to say in its write-up to ordinance:

“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.