Council favors City Hall tobacco measure

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A half dozen Albert Lea residents on Monday spoke in favor of prohibiting smoking and use of tobacco products outside City Hall.

Speaking about the effects of secondhand smoke and the need for positive role models, the residents asked the Albert Lea City Council to consider amending the City Charter to allow for the change.

Kessa Albright

“Outside of the classroom, parks and libraries are where us kids learn the most,” said Albert Lea High School senior Kessa Albright, a member of the Youth Advisory Council.

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The comments came during what was the first of two readings of the amended ordinance being considered by the City Council. The council approved the first reading in a 5-2 vote and will consider a second reading at its next meeting.

The ordinance calls for prohibiting smoking and use of tobacco products on the sidewalks around City Hall and the parking lots adjacent to the building.

City Manager Chad Adams said the city parking lots to the north and south of the building would be included, but the city lot across Newton Avenue by the water tower to the southwest would not.

The ordinance could affect city employees, residents utilizing city services and even Albert Lea Public Library patrons. It would affect people smoking or using tobacco both inside or outside of their vehicles.

Adams said the idea coincides with a policy already in the books that calls for no smoking at city parks.

National Vitality Center Chairman Randy Kehr said Albert Lea has made “significant” strides in tobacco-free initiatives in the last four years, so much so that 24 percent of employees in Freeborn County work in a tobacco-free environment. He noted manufacturer Lou-Rich’s plans to do so by Jan. 1, 2014.

This was also the first year for the tobacco-free kids day at the Freeborn County Fair, he said.

“It is time for the city to join the leadership shown by local businesses in the community and become tobacco-free,” Kehr said.

The community college, the hospital and several companies already have smoke-free campuses, including City Hall’s neighbor Alliance Benefit Group.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program Director Pat Stumme asked for consideration for the seniors in the community, some of who come to City Hall carrying oxygen tanks.

Chad Adams

Jenine Koziolek, who works for Fountain Centers, said tobacco often acts as a gateway drug. She encouraged expanding the proposed ordinance even further to include City Arena.

Patti Hareid with Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea explained how the hospital and clinic went tobacco-free in 2003. However, five or six years later they found that the smokers were just being pushed to the hospital’s neighbors, she said.

As a result, in the last few years, the hospital has implemented a new policy that employees are not allowed to smoke while walking on a public sidewalk surrounding the medical center or in the staff parking lot. They cannot smell like smoke while in work clothes.

“It can be done,” Hareid said.

Councilors Al “Minnow” Brooks and John Schulte V voted against the first reading of the ordinance.

Schulte, who stopped smoking nine months ago, said while he agrees that the city can encourage people to stop smoking, he does not think it is the city’s role to legislate the action.