Smoke-free parks: The city should take a bold step for children's sake

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It's been so cold out lately that not many youngsters are hitting the local parks for a breath of fresh air, but spring will be here soon. If two Pittsburgh council members have their way, children at play will find it much more refreshing to inhale deeply.

Councilmen Ricky Burgess and Corey O'Connor introduced legislation Tuesday that would make city playgrounds and other parts of parks where children are present smoke-free zones. There is ample evidence to support the idea.

Zoos, athletic fields and other outdoor facilities already ban smoking, so Pittsburgh would not be an outlier by doing so in its parks.

Most people do not smoke and it is dangerous to expose children to secondhand smoke. The proposed ordinance says that more than 858,000 young people are exposed to tobacco smoke pollution every day in Pennsylvania, and secondhand smoke is responsible for more than 50,000 deaths among nonsmokers each year nationwide.

Beyond the immediate health impact, there is the matter of teaching children by example. Young people imitate actions that they see on a regular basis, and reducing the instances in which they see adults lighting up may help reduce the number of young people who try smoking, which is estimated nationwide at 3,900 under age 18 per day.

A trip to the park for active play or passive enjoyment of natural beauty should not include a lesson in unhealthy habits.

The proposed ordinance follows the recommendations of the Penn State Extension program Young Lungs at Play, which helps communities to create tobacco-free recreational areas for children.

Those who argue this is an inappropriate intrusion into public spaces ignore the fact that most parks already prohibit the use of alcohol.

Banning smoking also would help keep parks cleaner. Nothing ruins a visit to the playground like having a 2-year-old pick up a filthy cigarette butt and try to eat it.

The council members' proposal is not onerous. It includes no provisions for fines and merely calls for the posting of signs designating as tobacco-free only playgrounds and the parts of parks where children are present. If adopted by city council and signed by the mayor, the ordinance will take effect July 1, when the weather should be perfect for a trip to the park.

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