No smoking at playgrounds

Loretta Stewart of Kingsport smokes a cigarette while sitting by the playground at Borden Park recently. Stewart said she agrees with Kingsport’s smoking ban at city playgrounds, noting that the behavior is a bad influence on children. Stewart said she always stays outside the perimeter of playgrounds and always puts her extinguished cigarette butts in her pocket rather than tossing them on the ground.

Smokers don’t carry ashtrays, and most cigarette butts they discard outdoors will litter the environment for years. The butt of a cigarette is primarily the filter, made of a type of plasticized cellulose acetate. It does not readily biodegrade, though Eastman Chemical Co. produces acetate tow that is biodegradable in specific environments.

The unsightly accumulation of cigarette butts is one reason Kingsport and Sullivan County are moving to ban smoking in the city’s playgrounds and the county’s only park at Deery Inn. Otherwise, these bans are necessary to protect the children using playgrounds because some ignorant parents puff away right beside them. The city will also ban the use of vaping products, something the county cannot do absent state approval.

Two years ago, the state gave cities and counties authority to ban tobacco products in playgrounds, but that legislation didn’t go far enough. Tobacco products may still be used elsewhere in parks, and vaping products were not included.

Kingsport aldermen will vote April 6 to finalize the ban, which will go into effect April 20 and result in a $50 citation from the police department. The city is acting in response to support from local public health professionals, including addiction specialists and pediatricians, said Alderwoman Jennifer Adler.

“I am grateful for recent legislation from the state of Tennessee that allows us to pass this ordinance and help ensure a healthy play environment for all Kingsport children,” Adler said.

About 1 in 5 Sullivan County residents smoke, which is higher than the national average, Adler said, adding that lowering the rate of tobacco use is a critical way to improve the overall health of the community. According to Kingsport Assistant City Manager Michael Borders, the new ordinance covers tobacco and hemp products used in cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

People will not be allowed to smoke in the playground areas but may smoke in other parts of the parks. Why? Shouldn’t smoking and vaping be banned throughout city and county parks? The city has the authority to prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices on or in city-owned facilities and properties. Borders said when signs are erected to warn visitors of the smoking ban at playgrounds, those signs will also address vaping as well.

The county’s ban, based on state law, does not include vaping because, according to County Commissioner Sam Jones, sponsor of the resolution to ban smoking at playgrounds in county-owned parks, the county is constrained by state law on the issue. “Vaping is as bad, if not worse, than smoking, and I cannot support this unless you include vaping,” said Commissioner Larry Crawford.

Use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC says most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

And e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.

Simply put, government at all levels should crack down on smoking and vaping throughout all public facilities.

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