Cigarette butts litter city playgrounds

Public smoking is nothing to play around with, one health experts says

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Katie Redar is getting ready to raise a big stink.
Since April, the tobacco prevention coordinator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department has been gathering ammunition to make a case for smoke-free playgrounds in Walla Walla.
Ever-so-nasty ammunition.
In her arsenal, Redar has a jar — not terribly big, but potent in its message. Inside the ribbed glass nestles nearly 400 wrinkled, smelly cigarette butts, most gathered in one day from the playground area of Pioneer Park.
As well, she’s stuffed in a few pairs of vinyl gloves stained rich shades of tobacco-brown and urine-yellow from use in the gathering effort.
"You want a menthol or regular?" Redar asked in response to a photographer’s request to see the butts more closely, donning new gloves to sift through her dubious treasure.
She plans to bring it all to Monday’s meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation board as a visual aid in her mission.
Redar’s stash of tarry yuck came about as part of an Earth Day exercise with Pioneer Middle School students back in April, she explained.
That event provided quite an education, it seems. "The students were grossed out. They were surprised at how many we were finding, especially in the wood chips," Redar said.
The same wood chips toddlers scamper over on their way to the swings and kids land in when they drop from overhead equipment. And the same butts some tots pop into their mouths, Redar heard from parents that day.
It’s not that park playground areas don’t get regular cleaning, said Jim Dumont, director of City of Walla Walla Parks and Recreation. "Picking up litter and cleaning bathrooms is the first item of the day for our maintenance folks."
That said, litter — including cigarette butts — "is a frustrating part of our work," he said. "We could spend more time directly working to improve the parks if people would only pick up after themselves."
Redar would like to take it another step. At Monday’s meeting, she plans to ask the Parks and Recreation board to consider not allowing smoking within 25 feet of the perimeter of the play areas in all city parks.
The state law in place banning smoking from public places applies only to buildings, but in her proposal Redar cites a 2008 survey of 600 residents — "Most people agree with and will abide by a tobacco-free policy."
Other cities and counties across the nation, including Garfield County and the cities of Richland and Kennewick have taken similar steps, Dumont said. Some have banned smoking from entire public parks.
To make similar changes here would require a few steps, with a final decision by Walla Walla City Council to adopt such an ordinance, he said. "It’s a policy issue."
But smoke-free parks can become a hot topic, and Dumont said he would like to see a public meeting held to garner community input. People are welcome to attend Redar’s presentation at 7 p.m. Monday at the City Service Center, 55 Moore St.
She understands the emotional component, Redar said. "Some smokers feel their rights are being taken away, but about 94 percent want this, or agree that playgrounds should be smoke free."
Redar has been there herself. "I started smoking at 13. Most people had parents who smoked, it was normal."
The habit stuck until she was 25 and expecting a child, she said. "I can understand people who are smoking ... it’s a chronic addiction."
As a parent, however, there is no contest in her opinion between cigarettes and play areas. In addition to her own child’s struggle with smoke-aggravated asthma — and her own — Redar has heard from numerous others who won’t let their kids play in Pioneer Park and elsewhere for fear of triggering asthma attacks, she said.
And those are the attitudes likely to make a smoking ban work. Redar’s proposal carries no fine or penalty — the peer pressure alone should work, she believes. As well, the health department would provide signs if the Council adopts the necessary ordinance.
Some signs are already there — just look in Redar’s jar.

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