Walla Walla meeting on smoking ban draws few

A meeting on a proposed smoking ban lacked enough board members to have a quorum.

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WALLA WALLA -- A proposed smoking ban apparently wasn't such a hot topic Tuesday.

Less than a handful of interested residents came to Walla Walla City Council chambers to discuss smoking in and around play areas in city parks.

Three members of the Parks, Recreation and Urban Forestry volunteer advisory board showed up, meaning no quorum for the nine-member board.

And no decision.

This was the second opportunity people had to offer input on the subject at a public meeting. As well, the city has received e-mails and phone calls about the matter.

The Walla Walla County Public Health Department has asked the board to consider the proposal and make a decision whether or not to bring it to City Council for a vote.

Under the suggested plan, the health department would be responsible for buying signs to make park users aware of the ban, which would prohibit smoking within 25 feet of areas where children recreate in all Walla Walla city parks.

Katie Redar, tobacco prevention specialist for Walla Walla County Public Health, has been working on the idea since last spring. In addition, polls done in recent years show a majority of people in Walla Walla support some sort of limitation on smoking in public parks, she said this morning.

In her perspective, the small turn-out for the meeting indicates most people don't feel a need to go and advocate. "They think everyone is on board."

Jim Dumont, director of Parks and Recreation, said the next meeting of the advisory board will be used to broach the topic again.

That meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Nov. 2 from 7 p.m. at the City Service Center, 55 Moore St. At that time a motion is likely to be made to pass the matter on for consideration.

If and when the matter gets to City Council, it will be put up for more public participation, said Shane Laib, a city councilman who also acts as liaison between that entity and the Parks and Recreation advisory board.

"Depending on how deep the council wants to get into it, there might be a work session or it may come straight to the council on an active agenda."

In his opinion, air needs to be cleared about the issue, Laib said. "I understand the problem, I understand there needs to be the cleanliness factor. I don't necessarily blame it all on the adults. There is a tremendous amount of teenagers who hang around in the park -- some of (cigarette litter) could be attributed to that."

To put up multiple signs for a ban, however, could diminish the beauty of Walla Walla parks, Laib fears.

As well, the health department's proposal seems to be spreading from a smoke-free zone to smoke-free parks, said the councilman, who was smoking up to a pack a day before quitting in 1995. "I don't know if I've crossed completely over the bridge for smoke-free parks."

Tuesday night meeting's low attendance was disappointing, Dumont said today. "We just don't know what the public wants unless they tell us."

It's important to give the proposal the attention needed to make sure the process has been as open and accessible as possible, he explained. "I don't think we need to rush into this decision at all."

Like Laib, Dumont wants ensure all layers of the health department's proposal are explored in depth. If the initial idea morphs from smoke-free play areas to tobacco-free parks, there will be a need to rethink, the director said. "The justification was second-hand smoke."

Chewing tobacco, for example, solely impacts the user, Dumont pointed out. "Does government have a role in regulating that?"

In addition, if parks are tobacco-free, what would that mean for other city properties such as the cemetery and golf course, he wondered. "I still have a lot of questions myself."

Public health's goal is to eliminate secondhand smoke, Dumont said. "I can understand that, they don't want tobacco to exist in our society. That's not our call."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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