By Joyce M. Miles
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — No-smoking “reminder” signs will be posted in Niagara County’s five parks next spring.
By a unanimous vote last week, county lawmakers agreed to let signs by the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition be placed in certain areas of county parks after Jan. 1, encouraging people to refrain from smoking around children.
Technically, the legislature adopted a policy declaring certain areas of county parks most frequented by children — recreation areas and restrooms — to be “tobacco free zones.”
Those certain areas are further defined as playgrounds, splash parks, athletic fields and the warming house at Bond Lake Park. According to the resolution approved by 13 legislators, those areas are to be considered “smoke free.”
Lawmakers passed a policy, not a law, however, so enforcement of tobacco free zones will be by “voluntary compliance” only, according to the resolution.
Enter a series of signs created by the anti-smoking coalition. The signs are not referenced in the resolution, but co-sponsors Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, and Tony Nemi, I-Lockport, said county workers will be instructed to post signs next spring that “gently” encourage adults to refrain from smoking in child-frequented areas of parks.
Several varieties of signs will be provided, including one bearing the message, “young lungs at play.”
Two years ago, Nemi was one of a multi-partisan group of legislators who opposed declaration of smoke-free areas in county parks. At the time, the group worried that the signs read like declarations of a law banning smoking in parks, although no such law was on the books. Some lawmakers, including Nemi, feared “domestic type” situations erupting between smokers and non-smokers over the signs.
Nemi, who recently was appointed to the county Board of Health that strongly backed the resolution then and now, said his mind was changed by the coalition’s offer of different, “less confrontational” signs for the county.
“They’re way different now; nobody is being told, ‘no smoking.’ The (new) signs are more like suggestions ... and it’s up to each person to decide” whether to take the suggestion, he said.
Ross, who’s always been ardently for the signs, even the more strongly worded ones, credited coalition director Anthony Billoni with keeping the issue alive in Niagara County. Billoni stayed in touch with Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton, who in turn kept after him the past couple of years to get other legislators to embrace it.
Ross cites a list of municipalities in Erie and Niagara counties that have enacted their own smoke-free parks ordinances — Hamburg, Williamsville, Alden, Amherst, Orchard Park, Springville, Colden, Eden, Niagara Falls, Royalton, the Village of Wilson — and says a policy discouraging smoking around children is the least the county can do for its young people. It’s not a law like the one passed by the Erie County Legislature, which is subject to police enforcement.
“I think a tobacco-free policy is important for our parks. It’s not earth-shattering, it’s just a little reminder,” Ross said. “It’s a good first step. We’ll see how it goes.”