published Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Smoking no problem at Chattanooga parks


by Cliff Hightower
David Howard Jr. smokes a cigarette Friday in Miller Park.
David Howard Jr. smokes a cigarette Friday in Miller Park.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Should Chattanooga parks be smoke-free?

EAST RIDGE BAN

East Ridge already has taken steps to ban tobacco on city property.

Council members voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve the ban, which will apply to city parks, all public safety and public works departments and City Hall.

Councilman Denny Manning cast the lone no vote, saying he supports designated areas for tobacco use.

"I've never smoked or chewed in my life, but I don't think you should try to control people," Manning said.

Councilman Jim Bethune compared it to outlawing alcohol sales on city property, saying the ban is in the public interest.

"It's not just you putting it in your body, it's the secondhand smoke you expose to other people," he said.

The final vote on the ban is set for June 28.

It is still unclear how the ban would be enforced.

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While it's illegal to smoke at Miller Plaza, a smoker can walk just 100 yards away and take a drag in Miller Park.

Smoking is allowed at all city parks -- including Coolidge Park, Renaissance Park and the Riverpark -- and there are no plans to change that, said Larry Zehnder, director of Parks and Recreation.

"Until smoking becomes an irritant to other people there, I don't think I want to address it," Zehnder said.

But Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said the city should ban smoking in all public places, including parks.

"We're known for being environmentally friendly. ... Something like that would make us known as a forward-looking community," White said.

Last month the River City Co., which owns Miller Plaza, banned smoking there, so Nightfall, the free Friday night concert, became smoke free.

Riverbend also expanded its smoke-free areas for this year's festival, and the national trend for years has been to limit smoking areas in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants.

But Zehnder said he thinks smoking at a park is not harmful to others unless people are squeezed together.

"It really doesn't affect anyone but [smokers]," he said, adding that he has not had any complaints about smoking in a park.

He said the city will study whether to ban smoking at events such as the Three Sisters Festival, Head of the Hooch and Pops in the Park.

The city does plan to put up signs around local pedestrian paths such as Greenway Farms and North Chickamauga Creek Greenway banning any sort of lighted materials because of fire hazards, Zehnder said.

White said she thinks the city should look at test sites to start with, such as the Passage next to the Tennessee Aquarium. She said the Passage is a prime location to ban smoking because children frequent the water attraction.

There has been no negative feedback since River City Co. banned smoking on Miller Plaza, she said. The city might be "very surprised" at residents' response to a smoking ban, she added.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd thinks the council should discuss the matter, but she's undecided on the issue. She knows people who don't smoke don't want to be around it, but she also knows the same people easily could dodge the smoker.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the venue and how tight the settings are," she said.

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