BYLINE: Brian Brus
The Oklahoma City Council approved an ordinance this week that declares all 152 city parks to be tobacco-free zones. At most, however, it’s a preference.
For all the signage planned to support that stance, the ordinance lacks any enforceable strength because Oklahoma law doesn’t allow cities to be more restrictive than the state when it comes to public tobacco use. Some City Council members and Oklahoma Municipal League officials are in agreement that needs to change.
“The Oklahoma Municipal League always advocates for local control,” Executive Director Carolyn Stager said. “We think local elected officials know best on how to govern their communities. Norman and Edmond have adopted similar ordinances. … If this is something that the city chooses to do and serves as a deterrent to smoking in parks, then I think the city should be able to do it. ”
The resolution passed Tuesday was driven in large part by citizens’ requests to the city’s Park Commission. Tobacco use is a documented health threat, according to the ordinance, and tobacco products are a significant source of litter.
City Attorney Kenneth Jordan said City Hall can’t enforce an outdoor smoking ban because a 25-year-old opinion by the state attorney general appears to set the upper bound by what the state law allows, and the current law does not restrict outdoor smoking in most public areas. An updated opinion is badly needed for clarification, he said.
So to add weight to the city’s new ordinance, Councilman Ed Shadid amended the original submitted item to require the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to seek input from citizens regarding signage and a public education program. He also presented several examples of signage from other states and cities where park smoking is prohibited.
Wendel Whisenhunt, director of the city parks department, said signs are needed for about 4,000 acres in the city’s parks system. The item doesn’t have specific funds earmarked, he said, but a general expenditure for signs should suffice at a cost of about $25,000.
The Oklahoma County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition and the Oklahoma City-County Health Department applauded the City Council’s unanimous passage of the ordinance.
“This is a great step forward, because right now smokers assume that it’s OK to light up in city parks, even when there are children present,” Oklahoma City Beautiful Executive Director Lisa Synar said. “We expect that this action will cut down considerably on smoking in our parks and on the amount of tobacco litter around playgrounds. ”
In a related council item this week, Councilman Pete White proposed a resolution urging state lawmakers to immediately restore the local control of municipalities to enact restrictive tobacco ordinances. Oklahoma is one of only two states that has sought to standardize all smoke-free air laws and has forbidden all local smoke-free air legislation that is more restrictive than what the state itself provides, he said.
The question of municipal-versus-state tobacco use authority arose this year in House Bill 2267, which passed the House by a two-to-one margin but died for inaction after state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, head of the Health and Human Services Committee, refused to give it a hearing.
Copyright 2012 Dolan Media Newswires