PROVO The Utah County Board of Health unanimously approved a draft resolution Monday that would ban smoking in public parks countywide.
County health officials will now present the proposed regulation to the Utah County Council of Governments for its consideration and possible approval.
The proposed regulation will be fashioned after an Orem city ordinance that was approved earlier this month, which outlaws smoking on any city-owned property or at any mass gathering. The ordinance does have some exceptions; It allows tobacco use within a 10-foot radius surrounding two benches outside the 4th District Court building, and cemeteries and city-owned golf courses are excluded from the smoking ban.
Health-board members said they anticipate some disagreement from the council which consists of the three county commissioners and the mayors of the county's cities and towns over particulars of a countywide ban, and they want to give each city a chance to participate in the discussion.
"I think it would be wise to get feedback from the cities before we impose something on them," said Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn, who also serves on the health board.
The board plans to discuss the proposed ban at a public hearing in two months, and possibly take action on the issue.
While Utah County has a smoking rate lower than the state average, it does not currently place restrictions on lighting up in public parks. Davis County and Salt Lake County, on the other hand, do have regulations on the books.
A countywide smoking ban has been in the works for quite some time, but the health board has treaded slowly and carefully because it says it wants to avoid stepping on any city toes. Springville and Orem recently leap-frogged those discussions, approving their own bans on tobacco use in public parks earlier this month.
In its meeting Monday, the health board reviewed the stricter Springville ordinance which bans tobacco use in public parks, recreational areas, cemeteries, within 25 feet of bus stops and within 50 feet of large gatherings and carries a $25 fine but opted to follow the Orem model, which specifically exempts public golf courses and cemeteries.
Washburn said because individual burial plots are considered privately owned and because golf courses are not as congested with foot traffic as city parks, the city opted for the exemptions. Violating the Orem code is considered a class C misdemeanor and is punishable with a fine of $750 or up to 90 days in jail.
Board members expressed concern about pushing a regulation of this magnitude, with board member Chris Sorenson saying a draft of the regulation should be presented to the cities before the board takes any action in a public hearing.
"I think that's the key question," he said. "Do (the cities) want us to do it, or do (they) want to do it to (themselves)?"
Jen Tischler, a health department tobacco prevention and health educator, said its research indicates an overwhelming majority of Utah County residents want some form of restriction on smoking in public. She said Outrage a group of teens against smoking gathered 5,112 surveys, and the results show 96 percent of respondents favor some form of tobacco policy.
The group also went to the Spanish Fork Rodeo and gathered 651 signatures on a petition.
Tischler said both the department and Outrage have spoken with the council, and the consensus was the council wanted to see a draft regulation approved by the board of health. She said she hopes Utah County adopts a countywide policy, as Davis County did, rather than trying to do it city-by-city like Salt Lake County.
"To do something individually is messy," she said.
Outrage members Jordan Osborn, 14, of Lehi, and Brianna Tello, 14, of Orem, who were present Monday, said they were glad they're making a difference.
"We have been working so hard at this, and it's finally coming through," Tello said. "I don't want to see kids suffer from emphysema or lung cancer because they were playing at the park."Tischler said the department will send out drafts of the proposed regulation to council members by the end of the week.
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