HIGHTSTOWN: Council considers smoke-free ordinance for parks

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By Amy Batista, Special Writer
HIGHTSTOWN – Council discussed moving ahead on creating a smoke-free zone in a parks ordinance on Monday night.
“This is going to be quite interesting,” said Mayor Larry Quattrone. “Council, as you know, there is a big discussion about smoking on the beaches. There is no smoking in government buildings and on any hospital grounds.”
He said the issue has been brought forward by the township’s Environmental Commission and their Parks and Rec Commission.
Ed Difiglia, municipal policy specialist for the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, took a few minutes during the first public portion of the meeting to share the organization’s support for an ordinance and to present some facts with the council and public.
“I am very glad to see that you are going to be discussing this tonight,” said Mr. Difiglia.
He said he wanted to share a couple of things for council consideration about cigarette butts and their relation to water quality.
“Cigarettes are very often littered within 10 feet of permanent ashtray,” he said.
According to the Center for Marine Conservation, cigarette butt litter accounts for one in every five items collected on cleanups, making it the most prevalent form of litter on earth.
“About 80 percent of the butts on the ground find their way into our water drinking system and detract from the quality of our drinking water,” said Mr. Difiglia.
He said that 281 municipalities in New Jersey have already made their parks smoke-free, as well as 10 counties.
“After talking with your Environmental Commission, you might want to know that Sustainable Jersey awards 10 points for this action, making parks smoke-free through ordinance,” he said.
Resident Doug Mair said he is not sure asmoking ban really is appropriate.
“Already, there are laws that restrict smoking in businesses and within so many feet of entrances,” said Mr. Mair. “If a ban on smoking should become law in the parks, then certainly it must clarify within how many feet of the park entrance.”
The problem with that is parks don’t have clear entrances because they are wide open, said Mr. Mair.
“That means you won’t be able to smoke on the sidewalk next to the park,” he said. “There is already a ban on the other side of the street because of the businesses so you won’t be able to smoke anywhere downtown and that doesn’t seem quite fair for the smokers.”
He said he was in attendance the first time a smoking ordinance was suggested and it based was on the premises that ducks would eat the cigarette butts.
“Well, it seems to me that the littering law would cover that,” said Mr. Mair.
He said that he doesn’t smoke but he doesn’t think that it is fair to tell others they can’t.
The mayor opened the floor to the council members to “weigh in on it” at the end of the evening during the discussion portion of the meeting.
“I have mixed feelings on it,” said Council member Seth Kurs. “On the one hand, people should be free and to go about without be offended by smoke. On the other hand, we can’t stop everyone from being offended.”
He said people are already banned from smoking in public buildings, movie theaters, restaurants, stores and even bars.
“So if we take out parks that basically leaves their own front porch. But what if they are living in an apartment building or townhouse, it might offend their neighbors there too,” he said. “There’s got to be a cut off somewhere and I’m not convinced that this is it.”
Mr. Kurs said that he does agree with Mr. Mair that there are littering laws that could be enforced.
“Cigarette butts are certainly all over the place,” said Mr. Kurs, who said he stopped smoking 18 years ago and when he did smoke, he always properly disposed of the butt.
“I never flicked it because I was respectful of the environment and everyone around me,” he said. “I don’t know how I am ultimately going to vote.”
Councilwoman Susan Bluth said as a smoker she has mixed feelings about the issue and she commented on remembering when she could no longer smoke in restaurants and other areas.
“Many municipalities have this,” she said.
Council member Connor Montferrat said that he was definitely surprised by some of his council members on a public health issue like this.
“You can have your own personal feelings about it I guess if you are a smoker, but I’m glad I grew up in a smoke-free school zone, when I go to restaurants and bars,” he said. “On top of that, being a cancer survivor is a big part of my life and second-hand smoke – I don’t know how many studies have been done – show that you can be prone to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, the list goes on.”
Mr. Montferrat said from a public health perspective that it is common sense to enact the ordinance.
“We are going to have to put up additional signage. And for people walking on the street who want to take their kids to the park, it’s a no-brainer not to expose kids to second-hand smoke,” he said.
Council member Steven Misiura said that he was in favor of an ordinance. “It’s ok to enjoy your rights as long as you are not infringing on the rights of others,” he said.
Council President Denise “Denny” Hansen said that she is in favor of the ordinance.
“It’s being done almost everywhere else,” she said. “Anyone that is in our parks for the most part are there doing healthy activities.”
Mayor Quattrone said what he heard was that council would be in favor of bringing the issue forward as an ordinance. But what he has heard from the public is that maybe there should have receptacles in parks for the cigarette butts because it is out in the open.
“We could have a designated area in the park for people to smoke in,” he said. “This ordinance is going to be discussed over and over. I think we are ready for it as an ordinance, but I believe there is going to be amendments to that ordinance.” Borough Administrator Henry Underhill said that the town would get some samples.
“She (Health Officer Jill Swanson) has indicated (through a memo) that she is willing to help you on developing an ordinance,” he said.