Olympia may ban smoking, vaping in city parks

Olympia will pursue a ban on smoking at all public parks, similar to a measure that Tacoma adopted in 2009.
Olympia will pursue a ban on smoking at all public parks, similar to a measure that Tacoma adopted in 2009. The News Tribune file photo

Olympia will pursue a ban on smoking and vaping at all public parks that could take effect in 2017.

The proposal comes in response to health concerns over secondhand tobacco smoke, litter and fire risks, according to the Parks Department.

The Olympia City Council will review a recommendation for a new ordinance Dec. 6.

One goal of a smoking ban is to promote Olympia parks as healthful places, said Jonathon Turlove, associate parks director.

Part of that plan includes reminding violators of the health effects of smoking tobacco. Although a determined smoker still can smoke without repercussions, Turlove said park rangers will distribute small cards with information about tobacco and how to quit smoking.

“We’re not intending to give citations or trespass people out of parks,” Turlove said. “It’s more of an educational effort.”

In 2003, the Olympia City Council passed a resolution urging people not to smoke near park playgrounds, but stopped short of a full smoking ban for parks. Reports at the time cited a preference for voluntary compliance and an educational effort to keep children away from smoking adults.

In addition to a ban on smoking cigarettes at parks, Olympia’s proposal would include vaping and e-cigarettes. State law already prohibits the smoking of marijuana in public places.

Smoking tobacco still would be allowed at state-owned parks in Olympia, such as Heritage Park and Sylvester Park.

Turlove said the proposal does not target a specific park. However, the Artesian Commons in downtown Olympia is an example of a park that has generated complaints about smoking. The Parks Department also will recommend extending the smoking ban to the property surrounding the Olympia Timberland Regional Library, citing complaints from patrons about secondhand smoke exposure and blocked access for the disabled.

Elsewhere in the county, the Tumwater City Council passed a resolution in 2007 that declared all parks smoke-free and called for signs to encourage voluntary compliance. The goal was to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and curtail litter from cigarette butts.

Seattle, Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Fife and Mason County all have smoking bans in their public parks.

Health FYI

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, with about 70 chemicals that can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke is a combination of smoke from a smoldering cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker.

The state Department of Ecology reported that cigarette butts can take up to 25 years to break down and are poisonous to animals that eat them. The department also reported that more than 488 million cigarette butts are littered on state and county roads each year.