Council votes to ban smoking in parks

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lighting up is now a petty misdemeanor

The Albert Lea City Council voted 4-3 Monday to ban smoking and tobacco products in all city-owned parks.

Violation of the ordinance will be a petty misdemeanor.

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Councilors Larry Baker, George Marin and Reid Olson, along with Mayor Vern Rasmussen, voted in favor of the ban, while councilors John Schulte V, Larry Anderson and Al “Minnow” Brooks voted against.

“What we permit, we promote,” said Erin Simmons with the American Lung Association, who spoke out at the meeting in support of the ban.

Simmons, who was one of a handful of people to speak on the issue, said parks are associated with youth and family. She said cigarette butts are the No. 1 littered item in the country, and they are not biodegradable and are toxic to people, pets and birds who may pick them up.

She said several other rural communities similar in size to Albert Lea already have an ordinance in place. The city would stand with those cities as a leader in tobacco-free parks.

Albert Lea High School student Tori Helgeson, a member of the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Committee and Youth Agents of Change, said as a child she frequented the park and now takes the children she babysits to parks.

She said children or anyone in parks shouldn’t have to endure second-hand smoke.

Albert Lea already had a tobacco-free policy in place for its parks but essentially had no teeth to enforce the policy.

The parks join Albert Lea City Hall and Albert Lea City Arena, which were already covered by the ordinance. The ordinance includes smoking or use of tobacco in vehicles parked at the locations.

Some councilors who were against the ban have previously stated they think banning smoking in public outside is going too far to limit personal freedom.

Another councilor said he thought the policy in place was already bringing success.

Look to the Tribune Wednesday for more from the Monday council meeting.