At least 33 communities in Kansas have already adopted policies restricting the use of tobacco in public parks, a move more Kansas communities should consider. Tobacco-free park policies not only limit youth exposure to smoking but also reduce potentially hazardous litter, with minimal costs to municipalities.
Our young people rely on public parks as safe places to play, explore, and grow. In many neighborhoods, public parks provide the only opportunities for safe outdoor play. Getting kids outside, active and exploring is more than recreation for children, it teaches them the skills they need to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Although parks have many uses, we must prioritize the physical and developmental needs of children as a first priority.
The health risks from exposure to secondhand smoke are well-documented. Although exposure to secondhand smoke in outdoor areas is still being studied, there is now enough data to cause concern. Smoking in partially enclosed environments, like entryways, pulls smoke into buildings, which is the motivation behind Kansas’ ban on smoking within 10 feet of access points to public buildings or workplaces. The Centers for Disease Control now says there is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke, even short-term exposure.
Litter is also a major concern related to tobacco use in public parks. Keep America Beautiful reports littered cigarette butts and other tobacco products are a serious problem, now comprising 38 percent of highway litter. Tobacco litter does not biodegrade, increases fire risks, attracts additional litter and poses serious health risks to children and wildlife.
The amount of nicotine found in only one cigarette butt is enough to cause ill health effects in a child if ingested, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, with the highly concentrated nicotine found in modern electronic cigarettes posing an even greater risk.
Tobacco-free park policies in Kansas communities vary, but the best policies ban combustible tobacco, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. The penalty for violating the law is typically a small fine or ejection from the park. The policies tend to be self-enforcing, with citizens inclined to follow signage or ask others to put out a cigarette being smoked in violation of a law.
More communities are jumping on the bandwagon, with Shawnee County being the latest Kansas community moving towards tobacco-free parks. Cities interested in passing their own tobacco-free parks law may download the “Young Lungs at Play! Toolkit” from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website, which includes sample ordinances, example signage and other resources.
Keeping the outdoor air in our parks fresh, clean and healthy for all Kansans to enjoy should be a priority.