Lake County Forest Preserve prohibits smoking in playgrounds
BY KATLYN SMITH email@example.com September 16, 2013 1:00PM
Officials briefly considered a ban for all preserves, but decided to focus on areas where kids could inhale secondhand smoke. “I was looking at it as a public health issue for a vulnerable population,” board President Ann Maine said. | Sun-Times files
Updated: November 16, 2013 2:46AM
Smokers will not be able to light up in Lake County Forest Preserve playgrounds, as more suburbs rein in cigarette use in parks.
Officials briefly considered a sweeping ban for the second-largest forest preserve district in the state, but instead, focused on areas where kids could inhale secondhand smoke, board President Ann Maine said.
“I don’t really know that there’s that much smoking on the playgrounds, but there can be children who are particularly sensitive,” Maine said. “I was really looking at it, for me personally, as a public health issue for a vulnerable population.”
Studies have long pointed to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. But researchers have debated the health hazards of exposure in outdoor settings.
“You should focus on those areas that you can have a great impact,” Maine said. “Having it throughout our forest preserve, I don’t think there’s good evidence that it would have an impact.”
Deerfield has adopted one of the strictest bans – barring smoking in public parks, school grounds and seating areas in certain outdoor venues. And now Vernon Hills is the latest suburb weighing whether to prohibit smoking on parks district properties.
“There’s some logistics in doing this,” Vernon Hills parks board President David Doerhoefer said. “The reality is it’s difficult to enforce.”
Cleanup of cigarette butts and other litter from smokers “is enormous,” he said.
The issue, Doerhoefer said, boils down to a nuisance, especially in confined areas.
“If somebody’s walking down the park and smoking, and they’re going in a different direction, that’s really not bothering anyone,” he said.
For the forest preserve, some board members framed the ban around social norms. Kids who see older role models smoking may pick up the habit, anti-tobacco groups say.
But Maine said that wasn’t much of a factor for her decision.
Lake County high school students from REALITY Illinois first swayed the board to look into a ban. The teens from the statewide group, which receives support from the Illinois Department of Public Health and local agencies, came before the board’s finance committee in June.
REALITY Illinois plans to target Mundelein parks officials in spring 2014, said Kris Andersen, a Lake County Health Department coordinator for alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention.
The county health department meets with students monthly. Their campaign has students surveying locals and staging park cleanups to collect tossed cigarettes.
Golf courses are their toughest frontiers. But Andersen says if you can smell the cigarette smoke, “you are getting exposed to the cigarette toxins.”
She also hears stories from teens who say they are simply uncomfortable around smokers.
“By eliminating this exposure to secondhand smoke, we’re opening up the opportunity for more people to enjoy the park setting,” Andersen said.
Meanwhile, crews plan to install “No Smoking” signs at a cost of about $3,000 within the month at playgrounds in forest preserves including Independence Grove near Libertyville; Half Day near Vernon Hills; and Captain Daniel Wright Woods and Old School near Mettawa.
Rangers will enforce the ban, applying to within 15 feet of playground boundaries. They can issue a $30 fine to first-time offenders, but they are unlikely to hand down that penalty, said Mike Tully, the district’s operations and public safety director.
“They already patrol the area,” Tully said. “If they do see someone smoking, they’ll reinforce the sign. We anticipate compliance for the most part.”