Caution: Young lungs at play.
That’s the sign City Councilman Mark Blanchfield wants to see around every playground and pool in the city, if the City Council supports him today on a partial outdoor smoking ban.
The proposed ban would only be in place near pools and playground equipment, allowing smokers to light up elsewhere in the parks.
“At the very least, address this at Tiny Tots,” he said, referring to the playground built for toddlers at Central Park. “It’s particularly dangerous for kids who are small — their lungs are still developing.”
Blanchfield has young children and his wife is a gynecologist. She’s very aware of the dangers of smoking, particularly on unborn children, who have lower birth weights if their mothers smoke.
But it’s not as clear that cigarette smoke hurts children who are playing outdoors. In fact, smokers’ rights organizer Audrey Silk said there’s no danger at all.
“Not conceding that they have even proved the effect of second-hand smoke indoors, it’s the outdoors!” said Silk, who runs Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, based in New York City. “It’s like the rules of physics have been suspended. It’s crazy. There’s absolutely no reason for it.”
She suggested that some people simply hate the smell of tobacco so much that they can’t stand being near it.
“But in a civil society, you cope with things that bother you. There are screaming children, loud music you pass on the street — you cope with it,” she said.
Blanchfield agreed that smoke isn’t as dangerous when it can be freely dispersed through the outdoor air.
“That’s a good argument. Of course it’s not as dangerous,” he said. “But the kids don’t have the capability to make a choice. When you’re a little kid, you don’t even know these things are bad for you.”
Young children also pick up cigarette butts at playgrounds, he said.
“And when you think that’s the least toxic part of the experience, you get concerned,” he said.
He’s hoping a ban would help teach adults to automatically put out their cigarettes when they’re near children.
“If you’re not aware of the harms it has on kids I’m thinking a sign like ‘Young Lungs At Play.’ I think people would realize it’s a good idea to extinguish your cigarette when you’re around kids.”
The proposal appears to be a popular one.
The Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, which is supporting the proposal, has reported dramatic shift in public opinion toward outdoor smoking bans in the past two years.
Director Judy Rightmyer said a 2005 survey found just 34 percent of Schenectady County residents supported a ban in parks and outdoor recreation areas. By 2007, 78 percent favored a ban in playgrounds and 79 percent wanted a ban near pools. Last year’s survey involved calling 350 residents in late June.
“The community wants it,” Rightmyer said.
Her research also shows that only 16 percent of the county’s residents smoke — but that’s still too much for her. Reducing that percentage is her main reason for supporting the ban.
“The majority of people start smoking by 19 years of age. By banning smoking in our playgrounds and pools, where the kids congregate, it sends a message that smoking is not socially acceptable,” she said.
But Silk said the ban is the wrong way to teach children not to smoke.
“You don’t de-normalize a habit without de-normalizing the person,” she said. “If you don’t want your kids to smoke, it’s the parents’ job to teach them, not to take a segment of society off the streets.”
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