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Smoking bans in parks are growing
Gainesville council will vote today on proposal
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Hear Melvin Cooper explain why Gainesville Parks and Recreation asked for the smoking ban.

The Gainesville City Council is scheduled to vote today on whether to ban smoking in any city-owned park, sports complex or recreational facility.

If the measure passes, it will become part of a growing trend in Georgia.

"About 35 counties, mostly around the metro Atlanta area, have already banned smoking in parks," said Anderson Flen, health promotion and chronic disease prevention coordinator for District 2 Public Health.

Melvin Cooper, director of Gainesville Parks and Recreation, said the proposed ordinance is a response to feedback from the public. "We’ve gotten complaints over the last few years, mainly from parents, particularly at our youth sports complexes," he said.

Cooper said he approached the parks board about banning smoking just in the areas around athletic facilities, but board members suggested expanding the ban to entire parks. "We’re not trying to dictate people’s lifestyles, but we are in the business of promoting health," said Cooper.

Hundreds of studies have established that secondhand smoke can be harmful to children and to people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

"It can impact them whether they’re indoors or outdoors," said Flen.

Not long ago, just about anyplace outside was considered a "smoking area." But on Jan. 1, 2006, Northeast Georgia Medical Center declared its entire campus tobacco-free, prohibiting people from lighting up around doorways and in parking lots.

Shortly after the hospital changed its policy, most other major health care facilities in Gainesville took the same step.

Flen said people are beginning to expect a tobacco-free environment at outdoor attractions such as amphitheaters and zoos. "I think a lot of people are surprised that (Gainesville’s parks) aren’t already smoke-free," he said.

Flen said health officials also have had discussions with Hall County Parks and Leisure. "I haven’t heard of anybody who’s against this ordinance," he said. "I think if Gainesville passes it, Hall County will follow suit."

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann, a longtime opponent of smoking, knows how he’ll vote on the ordinance today. "I feel very strongly in favor of it, and I look forward to it passing," he said. "I think it will bring a higher quality of life to the people of Gainesville, and it’s the right thing to do."

Cooper said if the ordinance passes, parks staff will put up signs informing people about the new rule, but there will be a 90-day grace period before enforcement begins.

"People will need a chance to get used to it," he said. "They’re used to being able to smoke in the parks, so it’s going to take a lot of education."