Midwest Democracy | Kansas City wants to discourage smoking in parks

Years ago, Kansas City banned smoking in public buildings, including bars and restaurants.

Now city officials are turning their attention to outdoor public spaces — namely parks.

There’s no move yet to ban smoking in parks. But the city will post signs in the next few weeks in specific parks and near playgrounds to discourage people from smoking.

Other area cities, including Lee’s Summit and Independence, have already taken this approach.

“You don’t think a whole lot of people are smoking, but you see the cigarette butts,” said Jennifer Jones-Lacy, special projects manager for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re hoping the signs will deter some people from smoking.”

There is no ordinance on the books prohibiting smoking in city parks, and smokers won’t face a fine. But if the pilot project works well, the City Council could follow it up with a specific law and enforcement mechanism, including fines.

The idea surfaced several years ago when Aggie Stackhaus served on Kansas City’s parks board.

She recalls being appalled seeing parents and grandparents smoking while their children played at Penguin Park and in the Gillham Park playground. She also was distressed to see them extinguish their cigarettes in the expensive rubberized playground surfaces.

“My number one purpose was health,” said Stackhaus, a reformed smoker. “But it’s also to prevent damage to those rubberized surfaces. It costs taxpayers money.”

Stackhaus didn’t get much traction when she raised her concerns, and she left the parks board in May 2011. Then last fall Kansas City’s Health Department joined those in Jackson County and Independence as recipients of a federal grant. Goals of the grant include tobacco prevention, active living and healthy eating. Part of the grant money will be used for signs declaring certain areas smoke-free and displaying the no-smoking symbol.

The current parks board has endorsed the pilot project.

“Everybody wanted to try it and see the reaction,” said parks board chairman Jean Paul Chaurand. “See what happens and see if people abide.”

The department has recommended that the following parks be entirely smoke-free: Penguin Park, Ninth and Van Brunt, Arbor Villa, the Brookside Triangle, Mulkey Square, Sheila Kemper Dietrich Park, The Bay and The Springs.

Smoke-free zones would be designated in Budd Park, Frank Vaydik Park, Gillham Park, Loose Park and Sunnyside Park.

The trend toward banning smoking in parks has grown significantly in the past two years. Nationwide, more than 600 municipalities have rules against smoking in parks.

The city of Independence has already posted 45 signs near playgrounds, spraygrounds and athletic fields in 25 parks, and more signs are on order for the rest of its 44 parks, said public health program coordinator Christina Heinen.

She said people used to complain regularly about smokers in the parks. Reaction to the new signs, in place since April, has been positive.

The Independence City Council is expected to consider a smoke-free ordinance for zones in its parks, with some enforcement mechanism, late this year or early next year, she said.

For more than a year, Lee’s Summit has had designated smoke-free zones within 50 feet of its playgrounds, youth sports venues and other athletic areas. Signs are posted, but there is no fine for violators.

The Jackson County Health Department is also ordering signs to post at children’s areas in the parks in Blue Springs and at John Anderson Park in Grandview.