Mecklenburg leaders could decide later this year whether to ban smoking or other tobacco use at county parks.
The move – which must be approved by park and recreation staff as well as county commissioners – could add Mecklenburg to a growing number of local governments in North Carolina that restrict or prohibit tobacco use in public parks.
On Monday, a majority of Huntersville commissioners voted to ban smoking in town parks effective immediately. Violators could face a fine if they don’t stop smoking after a warning.
Davidson also bans smoking in town parks. Meanwhile, Cornelius, Kannapolis, Concord and Cabarrus County ban all tobacco use in parks.
Mecklenburg parks director Jim Garges said a committee from his agency and the county health department are discussing a potential ordinance on smoking or tobacco use at parks.
A formal proposal hasn’t been drafted yet, and it’s not yet known how far any prohibition would go.
Smoking is already prohibited in public buildings in the state, including the county’s. But some communities have gone further to restrict tobacco in public areas as well.
Across the state, about a fifth of the state’s 100 counties, and 48 municipalities have smoke or tobacco-free policies in parks, said Patti Bossert, a grass-roots manager with the American Cancer Society.
Bossert said there are three main reasons why governments or others have considered restrictions on tobacco use in parks, including wanting to make sure adults are modeling healthy behavior to kids and trying to reduce second-hand smoke in bleachers or other common areas.
“We have about 2,000 teenagers nationwide who begin smoking every day so we want to do what we can to create a positive role modeling,” she said.
But Ray Cordato, senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation, said the bans might open the door to prohibitions of other private behavior. “If we go down that road, it’s not clear what other kind of annoyances” could be banned, said Cordato, who also questioned the concern about second-hand smoke in outdoor areas.
“Certainly there (are) legitimate nuisances that should be banned in public parks,” he said. “But I don’t think smoking is one of them.”
In Mecklenburg, Garges said the idea of restricting tobacco use at county parks has floated around for a couple years.
He said there have generally not been many problems with smoking at parks, but officials see a potential ordinance as a way to promote healthier behavior.
Garges said a proposal likely won’t be ready until late summer or early fall, and would first go before the park and rec board.