Smoking Outside: NJ Bergen County

New Jersey

Individuals are divided over whether smoking bans in public parks cross the line to trample on individual rights.

South Bergen towns moving toward smoke free parks

April 4, 2013
BY? MATTHEW MALYSAAND KELLY NICHOLAIDES, STAFF WRITERS

Individuals are divided over whether smoking bans in public parks cross the line to trample on individual rights.

The Rutherford Board of Health has passed a resolution recommending that the governing body adopt an ordinance designating all outdoor municipal public parks, recreation areas and public events as 100 percent smoke and tobacco free.

“There is currently nothing that prevents a person smoking a cigarette, cigar or pipe in our parks other than in Tryon Field. It really becomes an issue when there are people in an area watching a game and someone starts smoking. At the moment there is nothing that could be done about it,” said Rutherford Health Official Brian M. O’Keefe.

Rutherford is currently the only municipality in the South Bergenite coverage area with no outdoor tobacco control ordinance on the books. Tryon Field is the only recreation area in Rutherford that bans smoking. Carlstadt and East Rutherford are 100 percent smoke free, Lyndhurst bans smoking at the municipal park and recreation areas and North Arlington bans smoking on borough owned/leased fields during sponsored activities.

Currently 24 out of the 70 municipalities in Bergen County restrict outdoor smoking by ordinance or resolution. Due to medical studies that continue to link secondhand smoke with health risks, towns throughout the state are moving to outlaw smoking in all parks and recreational facilities. Of the 556 municipalities in New Jersey, 158 ban smoking in some parks, and about half have banned them in all their parks. Eight of 21 counties in New Jersey currently ban smoking in their parks.

Part of the push to ban smoking in public parks across Bergen County is an ongoing effort by the Bergen County Integrated Municipal Advisory Council, whose representatives have been meeting with officials from northern New Jersey municipalities.

This coalition of New Jersey tobacco control experts touts that banning smoking in parks is a health benefit for those that would otherwise be inhaling secondhand smoke, reduces the visibility of tobacco use to children, and reduces the need for tobacco waste clean up in parks. The group offers free signage to all towns that pass a 100 percent smoke free ordinance.

The “100 percent smoke free public places” metal signs have been paid for by a grant from the state health department’s Office of Cancer Control and Prevention, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis to municipalities.

Al Ferrara from the Bergen County Department of Health Services told Rutherford’s mayor and council that the main draw of the signs is the idea that the policy is self-enforcing. Ferrara cited a study done in Central Park after New York City went 100 percent smoke free in 2011. According to Ferrara, the study showed that even with the one year policy of no enforcement, the amount of tobacco waste was cut in half after a year. “People see the signage and respect it,” said Ferrara.

Karen Blumenfeld, Executive Director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy (GASP), said a 100 percent smoking ban is important because a partial ban on smoking in parks makes it difficult for residents to understand where the smoking and nonsmoking areas start and end and the partial ban is difficult to enforce.

“When you create a 100 percent smoke-free environment you are sending a clear message to the children who frequent the parks – partial bans tell children that is okay to smoke but just not here,” said Blumenfeld.

100 percent smoke-free parks policies are becoming more popular in New Jersey. Fifteen towns in Bergen County have 100 percent smoke-free parks and recreational areas ordinances: Carlstadt, Cliffside Park, Closter, East Rutherford, Elmwood Park, Franklin Lakes, Garfield, Mahwah Township, Moonachie, Oradell, Palisades Park, Paramus, Ridgefield, River Vale and Waldwick. And more than 80 New Jersey communities make all of their parks and recreational areas 100 percent smoke-free.

Smokers’ rights advocates, however, feel that smoking bans can be imposing on privacy rights, and believe that anti-smoker activists are using children as a “propaganda tool.”

“The reason for banning smoking outdoors in a park doesn’t have to do with health, it has to do with what the anti-smoking movement in the last 10 years has been calling ‘denormalization,’ the effort to make smokers and smoking seem abnormal and deviant,” said Michael J. McFadden, Northeast Regional Director of Citizens Freedom Alliance and The Smokers Club.

Although smoking should be banned in highly restricted indoor areas, McFadden notes, the outdoor bans go too far. “It’s easy to see that a line has been crossed once activists begin insisting that bans should be enforced in wide open spaces where any encounters with smoke are likely to be few and far between and highly diluted.”

McFadden noted that studies regarding secondhand smoke usually only refer to concentrated indoor encounters. “Anyone who has ever been outside and sniffed the scent of tobacco smoke in the air knows that indeed smoke can be detected in the air. But there is a very big jump from saying that something can be detected to saying that something is harmful,” McFadden said.

In East Rutherford, the borough did not have to pass an ordinance prohibiting smoking in public parks and recreational facilities, because borough fields are also school facilities which already ban smoking, Councilman Joel Brizzi noted.

“I support the ban in parks. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, especially to children. What bothers me more is that smokers don’t feel that throwing the cigarette butts on the ground is litter. It is litter and it flows to the waterways through the sewers, thereby contaminating the waterways,” said East Rutherford Councilman Joel Brizzi.

Representatives from GASP recently addressed the North Arlington mayor and council to introduce themselves and promote their wellness initiative and discuss the harm that secondhand smoking causes children, according to borough administrator Terence Wall.

“It was my understanding that any parks associated with the board of education are part smoking ban. I am not sure why the NJGASP people were invited, other than to address the council. From the presentation I heard, the group is trying to get the county to pass an ordinance against smoking in parks. But I am not sure who would enforce that in the county park that straddles North Arlington and Lyndhurst,” said Thom Ammirato, spokesperson for the borough.

Lyndhurst does not allow smoking in the township park, but the township has not extended this ban to any other outdoor areas. “Frankly, I don’t think smoking should be allowed anywhere near where children play,” said Commissioner Brian Haggerty. “Not only due to secondhand smoke, but also to the fact that children don’t need to see adults smoking when society is trying to dissuade children from taking up smoking. As far as ordinances similar in nature to what Mayor Bloomberg is proposing, I don’t think they are necessary in a small town like Lyndhurst. As it is, you cannot smoke in any municipal buildings or around any schools. But I personally would stop short of anything which affects private businesses and their customers smoking outside.”

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