OLEAN — Aldermen will decide on whether to ban smoking in city parks next month.
The Common Council’s public safety committee on Tuesday forwarded on a resolution to ban smoking in the city’s parks to the full council, by a vote of 5-1. Alderman Kevin Dougherty, R-Ward 4, voted no, while Alderman Brian George, R-Ward 7, was absent.
“No person shall smoke and/or utilize tobacco or nicotine products or vapor devices within the City of Olean Park System or recreational facilities,” the resolution states. “This prohibition ... includes but is not limited to sporting fields, playgrounds, pools, courts, parks, pavilions and walking trails.”
The legislation defines the ban as including “to burn a lighted cigar, cigarette or pipe, and/or to use any other substance which contains tobacco or nicotine and also includes electronic cigarettes, vapor devices and chewing tobacco.”
The only exception allows for use inside vehicles in the parking lot — a compromise added as to not exclude all smokers from the parks.
No public hearing is required, but the full text must be published in advance. However, the council offers public input periods during every regular council meeting. The next meeting is Tuesday, while the resolution will be brought to the council on Nov. 12.
The legislation serves two purposes, said sponsor Chairman Kelly Andreano, R-Ward 2. The first is to protect the lungs of visitors, while the other is to cut down on litter in parks and recreation facilities. She also noted that crossing parks off the places to smoke could deter youths from starting in the first place.
“I know a lot of kids go to the parks to smoke,” she said.
Dougherty questioned the need to ban vaping, as well as offering concerns about government oversight.
“I’ve never heard anything about secondhand vaping,” Dougherty said, adding that less litter is generated by e-cigarettes compared to tobacco.
“Anytime you have something in the air and you don’t know what’s in it — I don’t want to breathe it in,” said Alderman Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, adding more studies need to be done to determine what is in the vapor, as well as the actual health impacts in the first-hand and second-hand.
“As research comes in, you can revisit it,” said Mayor Bill Aiello, adding he would even support banning smoking on public streets if the council wanted.
“I’m against it being banned on our city streets — I think that’s really overstepping our authority,” said Alderman Paul Gonzalez, D-Ward 3, but said he was fully in favor of banning smoking in the city’s recreational areas.
The only change to the proposal before heading to the full council was adjusting the fine from $50 to $200. The ordinance also allows for the removal of offenders from parks and events, but that is not mandated.
“I like $200 — make it so ridiculous that nobody will do it,” Gonzalez said.
City attorney Nick DiCerbo noted that if the if offenders do not pay, the fine could be turned into a civil judgement — with a $45 charge for the city, so the fine should be at least high enough to cover the court costs.
Police Chief Jeff Rowley added he supports the measure, as it gives law enforcement a reason to stop a suspicious or unruly person in the parks. He said that the response from law enforcement could range from a friendly warning to tickets, as well as charges like obstruction of governmental administration for “that fly” who refuses to comply. The littering charge on the city’s books is another $200 fine, so technically smoking and throwing a cigarette butt on the ground could net $400 in fines for a smoker.
“People will start following it when the word gets out,” he said.