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County approves tobacco ban at parks
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Parks and recreational facilities in the county will soon prohibit the use of tobacco products on its premises.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved at their meeting Tuesday an ordinance that would ban tobacco use in the proximity of children and adults visiting Newton County-owned or operated parks and recreational facilities. According to the ordinance, tobacco use in these areas is detrimental to children and adults' health and can be offensive to those using these facilities.

The approved ordinance is scheduled to go into effect on April 1, 2013.

The ordinance was first presented by Newton County Recreation Commission director Tommy Hailey and other members of the recreation commission at a county work session in November.

According to the ordinance, tobacco use would be prohibited in all indoor and outdoor parks and recreational facilities at all times. It will be unlawful for any person to use any form of tobacco, including but not limited to cigarettes, E-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in all areas of county-owned or operated indoor and/or outdoor parks and recreational facilities, including but not limited to restrooms, athletic fields, rivers, parks, walking/hiking trails, agency-owned vehicles, and spectator and concession areas.

Jenny Carter, with the county attorney's office, said the ordinance was identical to the one that was presented in the work session, but also included the Covington Square Park as one of the parks that would prohibit smoking and added the April 1, 2013, effective date.

Hailey thanked the board for allowing the NCRC to present them with the tobacco ban ordinance and stressed its importance. He also explained that the ordinance has been looked over by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

"Our goal once again is to take this - if you do approve it - and really put some impact and discourage the youth of our county and teach them about the disadvantages of using tobacco."

"The attorneys for the state department of health have reviewed this and given their approval of it," Hailey said. "What that means - with their approval - is that now we can qualify to submit for some grant money to get the money for the necessary signage, brochures and other information we need to get out to make sure we get those to the parks and get that distributed at the proper time to educate the public."

County-owned or operated parks and recreation facilities under the ordinance include the following: Anderson Field, Baker Field, B.C. Crowell Park, Beaver Park, Chimney Park, City Pond Park, Conyers Street Gym, Denny Dobbs Park, Factory Shoals Recreation Area, Fairview Community Park, Lake Varner, Mary Louise Fowler Park, Old Cousins Gym/Wolverine Field, Pactiv Field, RotaDyne Field, South Street Park, Spillers Park, Stone Road Complex, Trailblazers Park, Turner Lake Park and the Covington Square Park.

The notification and enforcement section of the ordinance states that the community, facility users and staff will be notified about the prohibition of the use of tobacco products, that appropriate signs will be posted in all parks and recreational facilities where tobacco is prohibited and that the Newton County Recreations Commission will develop an educational campaign to assist in informing citizens about the policy prohibiting tobacco use.

It also states that the staff will periodically observe parks and recreational facilities to monitor for compliance and that visitors found using tobacco products will be asked to refrain from such use while on parks/recreation property or leave the premises and that if they refuse, law enforcement officers will be contacted to escort the person off the premises or cite the person for trespassing in case the person refuses to leave the property.

At the meeting, Commissioner Tim Fleming thanked the NCRC for the ordinance and made the motion to approve it.

"I would like to thank you all for your work. This is great news for the county recreation commission."

Though the ordinance was approved by commissioners, Julie Anderson a member of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association and Barbra Malenfant, who drove from Augusta, addressed the commissioners during the citizen's comments portion of the meeting about prohibiting E-cigarettes.

"I would request that any ordinance that bans smoking not include smoke-free products such as electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco neither of which has been proven to be of danger or cause second-hand smoke," Anderson said. "I smoked two packs a day for 35 years, and if it weren't for these I'd still be a smoker. It's so important that we get people to quit, but to take away an alternative for them that's not harmful for bystanders is sometimes, I think, shortsighted."

Malenfant, who represented Victorious Vapors - an electronic cigarette shop in Augusta - said she was a two-and-a-half pack a day smoker for 42 years. She said if it were not for electronic cigarettes, she would not be here today because she was on oxygen 24/7.

"There is no harm in second-hand smoke. Being outside vaping is like going into your kitchen and boiling a pan full of spaghetti and inhaling vapor from the food that's cooked," Malenfant said. "To include it in tobacco free outside recreation is ridiculous."

Commissioners did not speak on the citizens comments. The ordinance was not changed.