Mason City is home to some of the most beautiful parks in Iowa. This is due in large part to the leadership of the elected members of the Parks and Recreation Board, Park and Recreation management and staff, and the countless volunteers that dedicate their time to our parks system.

In an effort to make our parks even more family friendly I approached the Parks and Recreation Board for preliminary discussion on language to curb smoking in children’s playground areas.

The Parks and Recreation Board sets the policies, rules and regulations and adopts procedures for the management of our parks, and I look forward to working with it as a partner to find a positive resolution.

The achievable goals of smoke-free park initiatives are to promote community well-being, reduce litter in park grounds, avoid the health effects of secondhand smoke and discourage/reduce youth smoking.

Communities across the country are making strides towards these initiatives right now. This is not uncommon.

As of July 2014, 967 municipalities in the United States have specified that all city parks and/or specifically named city parks are smoke free, including 15 in Iowa.

Many other communities have designated smoking areas within city parks or have specified children’s play areas smoke free.

The evidence is clear on the negative impacts of secondhand smoke among non-smokers, including children.

Furthermore, cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in the United States. This creates an issue for maintenance and cleanup for our parks but most important it poses threats to curious children handling discarded cigarettes left on playgrounds.

A University of Minnesota tobacco-free parks and recreation study showed 70 percent of survey respondents supported tobacco-free policies for outdoor park and recreation areas.

In that same study, park directors from cities that have implemented smoke-free policies reported successful outcomes including less litter in public parks and few problems with policy violators. This is important to note.

No ordinance or rule will ever eliminate a problem completely, but communities that have restricted smoking in parks are often self-enforcing.

When signage is erected to educate parks users of the rules, many people self-correct and most of the public will generally comply. Adding duties for law enforcement is not the intent nor do I think would be the result.

Also important to note is that currently in Mason City there already are city parks with tobacco-related language that works well. The Norris Youth Softball Complex is a tobacco-free park and Frederick Hanford Softball Complex has designated tobacco areas.

I understand there are opposing views on this issue and I respect and welcome all of those viewpoints. I am in no way disparaging smokers, whose choice to smoke I respect.

But we have roughly 300 acres in Mason City devoted to city parks, and I am confident we can all work together to find space on children’s playgrounds to be designated smoke-free.

Alex Kuhn is serving his first term as at-large city councilman in Mason City.

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