It’s going to be tougher to smoke in Derby’s parks.

At its Sept. 10 meeting, the City Council approved an ordinance banning smoking and vaping from outdoor gathering areas and within 20 feet of those spaces.

The ordinance also added e-cigarettes to Derby's Clean Indoor Air Ordinance and put the same restrictions on vaping as smoking. That part, however, didn’t spark the same examination as the subject of smoking in the parks.

The measure passed by a rare 5-3 vote and came after 36 minutes of discussion, some of it centered around how far the city can go in restricting personal choices and when someone’s acts adversely affect another person.

It was a matter of balancing individual rights versus the public good, said member Andrew Swindle.

One thing was certain: the council was going to do something about the issue that evening. At one point, member Cheryl Bannon, the senior member of the body, firmly stated there could be no more attempts to push off making a move until another meeting.

“We just need to make a decision now,” she said.

This was the third reading for the ordinance. The action passed comes from an ordinance presented on July 9 and the majority was comfortable with the way it was written.

Basically, smoking is forbidden in areas such as bleachers, playing fields, shelters, and playgrounds with the operative language of “when people are gathered in those spaces.”

Provides police with options

If no one else is present, a solo smoker may indulge in his or her practice provided current rules are followed.

Currently, smoking is prohibited inside park facilities, according to the city’s website.

“Smoking is allowed on the patios only, where there is a butt can, and smokers must stay at least 20 feet from doors into the building,” the policy states.

On the other hand, smoking is now allowed in open areas of parks, unless signs are posted indicating otherwise. City Manager Kathy Sexton said she believes that the only places those signs exist are the softball fields at High Park and Rock River Rapids.

Also, under the new rule, if organizers wish, smoking areas could be designated at community events in parks if the organizers so desire.

The matter first came up at the June 25 meeting, came back in July and now is completed.

There aren’t many complaints about smoking in the parks; however, Deputy Manager Kiel Mangus, who researched the subject and presented his findings to the council, said it’s good to have something on the books in case enforcement is needed.

The police are not going to be patrolling the parks looking for violators, but if a complaint is called in and the individual refuses to put out his or her smoking material, the police have a law to fall back on and could arrest that person and make a charge.

Member Tom Keil said the crux of the matter is when people gather.

“That’s when you would get the complaint,” he said. “When people are alone, there’s no complaint.”

Vaping a current pressing concern

At one point in the back-and-forth discussion, member Jack Hezlep wondered if the council was making too big of a deal out the issue, saying that “most people have common sense.”

But others said it was necessary for health reasons and it now includes vaping, which has been in the news recently after serious injuries and deaths have been traced to its use.

Swindle also brought up the point that smoking is going to continue to be a prominent community health issue and, in the future, the council may have to consider revisiting it if marijuana use is legalized. States around Kansas have legalized its use and that may be the case here, too, he said.

This ruling just covers tobacco and vaping, Mangus said.

There was another option for the council to consider – which it didn’t approve – and that was to ban smoking outdoors in all public parks except for specially designated areas.

Those would be spaces tied into private rentals at Zimmerman Shelter at High Park, the Lodge at Warren Riverview Park and The Pavilion and Venue at Madison Avenue Central Park.

Despite the disagreement among the council, member Mark Staats said there are no hard feelings on either side and the members can agree to disagree and move on to other matters.

For his part, Swindle said the multifaceted subject gave the members a chance to consider how far it can and should go to regulate personal behavior in public spaces.

“This is a fun one, isn’t it?” he asked as the discussion wrapped up.

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