Winston-Salem council members' opinions mixed on park smoking ban

The Winston-Salem City Council has been tussling with the NC General Assembly over authority to regulate firearms in city parks. It's a classic David-and-Goliath matchup between a Democratic-controlled city council and Republican-controlled state legislature. Council members meet with the Forsyth County delegation tomorrow morning at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to plead their case on this and other matters.

First guns, now tobacco.

While the local and state bodies debate who should control firearms in city parks — the big-government Republicans in Raleigh almost certainly win this one — some members of council are exploring the possibility of banning smoking in city parks.

Councilwoman Molly Leight, who represents the South Ward, asked staff to research smoking bans for city parks after receiving complaints from a small group of parents in the Washington Park neighborhood who were concerned about adults smoking near children in playgrounds. Besse said he has not heard from any constituents who are concerned about the issue.

Recreation and Parks Director Timothy Grant advised members of council's general government committee, chaired by Southwest Ward Councilman Dan Besse, on their options. Among the three council members present, including Southeast Ward Councilman James Taylor Jr., there was little consensus on what kind of ban, if any, to pursue. (North Ward Councilwoman Denise D. Adams, the fourth member of the committee, did not attend the meeting due to her sister's recent death.)

Grant said the staff's polling of different North Carolina cities and counties revealed that there are three broad categories of smoking bans when it comes to parks: limited "tobacco free zones" for areas such as playgrounds that are frequented by children, total bans on smoking within the system, and allowance for smoking only in parking lots at parks. Limited bans usually designate a particular distance, such as 30 feet or 50 feet, from playgrounds and other facilities used by children in which smoking would not be allowed. All three approaches require posting of signs and enforcement.

Leight said she tends to favor a full ban because she can't imagine someone pacing off the distance to determine whether someone was within the prohibited area or not.

Taylor said he would favor an approach that allows people to smoke in parking lots.

Besse said he would prefer that the city target areas such as playground for protection.

Grant reported that smoking is most prevalent in city parks with lake access where people come to fish and on the golf courses. He said the city doesn't have a problem with smokers littering the parks with their butts.

Any ban would have to come to council through the recreation and parks commission, Grant said. He added that the commission has already discussed the idea, and, similar to the trio of council members, there is a wide range of opinions on the matter.

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