Sparks fly on No Smoking

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Eureka Springs city council met at the Auditorium April 13 for a workshop on crafting a No Smoking ordinance in city parks, and participating were representatives from city hall, the Parks Department and the City Advertising and Promotion Commission. Brenda Patterson and Barbara Kumpe, no-smoking advocates with experience helping municipalities craft No Smoking ordinances, also had input.

The idea of a No Smoking ordinance first caused a ruckus at city council during the August 22 meeting. Parks Director Justin Huss presented a draft that would ban smoking in all city parks except for areas in Lake Leatherwood City Park, pointing out it would be impossible to enforce the ordinance throughout the 1600-acre park. Responses among aldermen ranged from mentioning the health benefits of less smoking in public places to positive role modeling, to “Smoking is not illegal whether you like it or not.”

Subsequently alderman Kristi Kendrick penned two other ordinances on the topic that would have banned smoking in all areas of all city parks. Alderman Bob Thomas has since organized the respective points and items from all three documents into categories in one document for ease of comparison.

At Thursday’s meeting, Mayor Butch Berry suggested they go through the four sections of Thomas’s document item by item. The “Reasons” section got a minor scrubbing to clarify language, but discord bubbled up during a walk through “Definitions.” Alderman Terry McClung said it appeared someone was trying to make an ordinance banning smoking in the entire town, and Kendrick responded that was not her intention. The group did agree that the city could not prohibit smoking in private places, so the only areas council could ban smoking would be “city-owned” spaces.

Participants were divided over whether the city would be able to regulate where medicinal marijuana could be used. With advice from Kumpe and Patterson, they did settle on this definition for a tobacco product: “For the purposes of this policy ‘tobacco’ is to include any product containing, made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption, whether chewed, smoked, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed or by any means or any component, part, or accessory of tobacco to include but not limited to: any lighted or unlighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, vaping, vaping pen, hookah or hookah pen and any other smoking product and spit tobacco, also known as smokeless, dip, chew, snus, and snuff in any form including ‘e-cigarette’ and electronic nicotine device.”

During discussion of the definition of a “Smoking Permitted Area,” Kendrick insisted they define it in the ordinance rather than leave the decision to designate No Smoking areas up to city employees. Different views ran counter regarding the phrase “an area not to exceed 400 square feet” for the No Smoking area, and Parks commissioner Steven Foster pointed out they could simply designate No Smoking areas in the LLCP and ban the other areas. Kendrick claimed Parks might end up with cigarette garbage everywhere, but Foster countered that was not his experience at the park.

Huss called an ordinance banning smoking in all of LLCP “a paper tiger… How would I enforce it?” he asked. He said prohibiting a person from sitting by a campfire and having a cigarette is “something I can’t enforce.” He stated he does not have a park ranger and doesn’t want to put seasonal staff in a confrontational situation. “It’s 1600 acres and there are 20 miles of trails.” He agreed an ordinance should include no smoking at the other Parks properties, but LLCP would have to be handled differently.

Kendrick maintained her stance banning smoking in all city-owned areas, and alderman Mickey Schneider forcefully asserted Kendrick was in no position to deny others their right to smoke. Kendrick steadfastly continued to advocate for good health and reducing litter. Bill Featherstone, chair of the Parks Commission, commented, “I don’t like passing laws to fix problems that don’t exist.” He said he traverses the trails at LLCP as frequently as anyone, and does not see butts on the trail. He urged the group, “Address the problem; don’t overdo it.”

The group finally accepted this suggested definition: “‘Smoking Permitted Area’ means an area which does not serve as an area of ingress and egress, which is clearly posted with ‘Smoking Permitted – Children under the Age of 18 Forbidden’ signs, within which smoking is permitted.”

The last two sections involved “Identifying Boundaries and/or Locations for Smoking Prohibition” and “Violations and Civil Penalties.” Regarding setting boundaries in a proposed ordinance, the group agreed “Smoking and use of tobacco products shall be prohibited within 25 feet of Basin Park in its entirety, city-owned buildings, all playgrounds, Harmon Skate Park, Harmon Dog Park and Leatherwood Fields.”

Violators of the ordinance would be charged with a misdemeanor and a fine ranging from not less than $75 nor more than $150 for the first offense, $150-$300 for the second offense and $300-$500 for the third offense “and each subsequent offense within one year of committing two prior offenses.”

City Attorney Tim Weaver said a violator would also face court costs plus a fee that pays for upkeep of the county jail, and a person found guilty of littering could face a fine as steep as $10,000.

Weaver also remarked that enforcing a No Smoking ordinance in certain areas of the city would be very difficult because officers usually do not patrol at LLCP.

Preparing an ordinance from the points of agreement was left to Weaver. No date was announced for when council would first consider the proposed ordinance.