Enforcement questions remain, as citizens back ban on smoking and tobacco … – The Oregonian

Once or twice a week, Susan Munger, a self-described “trash ranger,” takes a bag and pickup stick and collects garbage around her neighborhood. She said she can fill her bag with mostly cigarette trash–buds, wrappers, cartons–over the course of a half hour. 

“There are times when I’ve left the [Forest Grove Farmers] market, because somebody’s got a cigar going, or somebody’s got cigarettes going,” Munger said. “I just can’t tolerate it. It just ruins [the market] for the day.” 

A far-reaching ban on smoking and tobacco use in public parks and city-sponsored events might put an end to Munger’s “ranger” activities. At a meeting Thursday, Forest Grove Parks and Recreation commissioners discussed the proposed policy’s scope.

The city code change would ban smoking and tobacco use in city-owned buildings, parking lots, parks and recreation areas, and city-sponsored events. 

It covers “cigarettes, cigars, pipes, grass, plant, plant-product, liquid, vapor, electronic smoking devices and smokeless tobacco,” according to the draft ordinance. 

The proposed city code comes on the heels of a proposed smoking ban at all Pacific University campuses. That policy is under review by the President’s Cabinet. 

“[The new code] is fairly wide-reaching,” said Forest Grove Parks and Recreation Director Tom Gam ble. “When I first started talking about this, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just interested in parks.’ But I think it’s important if we have these large community events on these public right-of-ways that people are not exposed to secondhand smoke.”

The parks department would notify the public of the ordinance through adding new signage in parks and around public areas, costing the department roughly $1,000 for the coming fiscal year, Gamble said.

The department’s code enforcement officer would likely handle violations to the new ordinance. Gamble said he believed citizens would self-enforce the policy over time.

“It’s like picking up after your dog. Eventually if you’re walking your dog and he does his business out there, it’s like, Gee, I’ve gotta pick that up, because everybody else knows I need to pick it up. The same could be said for this type of policy.”

The proposed city code revision covers parks and recreation areas that includes “sidewalks, trails and pathways in or around park facilities, park strips, and other grounds of any park or recreation area, including open space and natural areas.”

Gamble said the parks staff spends two hours per week picking up cigarette buds from shelters at Lincoln, Thatcher, Bard and Rogers parks.

“This type of policy … gives an opportunity for law enforcement to contact individuals who happen to be smoking on property that oftentimes, according to the [police] chief, brings other reasons to be in contact with them and finding people they may have been looking for.”

Officers would “have another tool in their toolkit to approach people,” Gamble said.

He called the cigarette bud littering in Lincoln Park “a horrible situation.” He said parks staff disposes of “70-80 cigarette buds every single day.”

Former Forest Grove police chief Glenn VanBlarcom, who sits on the commission, asked whether parks staff talked with Police Chief Janie Schutz about how a smoking ban would impact the call volume to the police department.

“You’re creating a new thing for the city to comply with. It’s like bringing a new crime … It’s going to create an avenue for calls to be generated that they will have to respond to,” VanBlarcom said.

Gamble said he did not have an exact response for that. Schutz did not attend Thursday’s meeting. VanBlarcom said the issue could be covered in the public safety commission in April.  He also asked why the city didn’t consider adding language that specifically banned smoking of not just tobacco, but marijuana as well. 

“This is going to be a huge issue that’s going to be dealt with in the very near future…Why dance around the definition of the plant product?” Glenn said. “I mow my grass. I haven’t smoked it recently.”

Gamble said he had “no issue with including” cannabis in the ordinance.

Forest Grove City Councilor Victoria Lowe asked whether the policy should cover other public right-of-ways, such as sidewalks located outside of public parks.

“I’d love to have big “no smoking” signs up at every entry point of Forest Grove,” she said. “That means you smoke in your house where you’re affecting yourself and your family. You’re making your choice to impact your own health.”

Carla Bennett, tobacco prevention coordinator for Washington County, said cities do not typically include city-owned sidewalks into similar policies. She left the matter up to city officials.

Commission Chair Paul Waterstreet warned the discussion had gone beyond the commission’s scope and that commissioners should focus on parks and city-sponsored events.

Gamble said he is seeking a recommendation from the parks and public safety commission before moving the issue to the City Council. The parks commission will likely make a recommendation at its next meeting in April. 

The Public Safety Advisory Commission will also take up the matter in April and likely make its recommendation. The proposed code revision will likely head to the Council in May. Gamble said he anticipates the ban, if approved, will start in June.

Forest Grove would join 56 other cities and counties in Oregon that have implemented similar limitations on smoking and tobacco use in public parks.

“The trend is clear,” Gamble said. “It’s something we have to consider.”

— Edwin Rios 

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