|Forum clears air on smoking ban|
|No lighting up on municipal grounds if passed|
|Published Tuesday, August 12, 2014 7:14 am|
Clearing the air towards better health was the prevailing theme of Monday’s community forum on proposed Mecklenburg County ordinances to make all municipal buildings smoke-free and parks tobacco-free.
County officials voiced their opinions at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center as they answered pre-written and open forum questions from the public during an hour-long panel discussion. The panel consisted of representatives from the county manager’s office, the Health Department and Parks and Recreation.
According to County Health Director Dr. Marcus Plescia, the basis for the ordinance was information gathered from human service agencies and the general public in 2013. The health assessment identified “chronic disease” as the “most pressing [problem]…per county,” and tobacco usage topped the list. Yet in spite of the findings, “education alone does not equal change in behavior,” tobacco prevention coordinator Kim Bayha said. “It has to be a combination of policy and education.”
In support of the possible ban, Plescia said there was a 17 percent reduction in emergency room visits for heart attack symptoms after the state implemented smoking restrictions in bars and restaurants in 2010. He attributed the county’s delay in considering any type of ban was based upon the state needing to initiate measures before municipalities could be eligible to do so.
Acknowledging the “immediate benefit” of such legislation, Plescia added that in cases where the restrictions were implemented and then rescinded, the percentage rose to previous numbers. Plescia also indicated that tobacco restrictions are beneficial in addressing smoking cessation, second-hand smoke issues and preventing young people from smoking. He emphasized that 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking before age 18.
Deputy Parks Director Michael Kirshchman concurred and considered demonstration as key to prevention.
“What we want to do is have children not see it as often and see positive role models in the parks,” he said. “According to our research, the public wants tobacco-free parks.”
In conjunction with a decrease in smoking at public facilities, county officials also hope to reduce the 20 percent adult tobacco usage rate in Mecklenburg to 10 percent by the year 2020, which according to Plescia is the national goal.
While the county officials and some audience members threw their support behind the proposed measure, others were not too sure and brought up the issue of possibly establishing smoking sections within parks.
Plescia frowned upon loopholes and special locations, which he stated would “undermine” the ban’s purpose. According to Kirshchman, a special smoking section “would not address the role model behavior at all” and only cause confusion. A Chicago-based resident questioned the home life of children, who regularly see adults smoking.
While Plescia estimated a countywide cost of $100,000-$200,000 for posting the ban, he also emphasized the $350 million toll of medical expense on the county as well as saving lives.
Residents will have more time to weigh in on the matter via on line at www.MecklenburgCountyNC.gov or during a public hearing scheduled for September 2 at 6 p.m. before a September 17 vote.
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