Smoking has been banned in restaurants and most other public places in Arlington. The focus now is on parks. Brian Lawdermilk Star-Telegram archives
Smoking has been banned in restaurants and most other public places in Arlington. The focus now is on parks. Brian Lawdermilk Star-Telegram archives

Arlington

Arlington councilwoman putting park smokers on notice

By Robert Cadwallader

rcadwallader@star-telegram.com

December 30, 2016 03:48 PM

ARLINGTON

The natural habitat of the American smoker is quickly dwindling. Now, Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon wants to sweep them out of the city’s parks.

Clean sweep, that is. The city has had smoking restrictions in parks since 2008 forbidding visitor light up within 50 feet of park entrances, dugouts, bleachers, playgrounds, areas between athletic fields and around swimming pools, and spectator seating, to name some.

But the law doesn’t address places like walking trails, said Lemuel Randolph, parks and recreation director, who was rounding up information for a discussion on the topic at the City Council’s afternoon work session Tuesday.

Wilemon wants to snuff out the remaining smoker-friendly territory, on the way to one day making Arlington a smoke-free city.

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“Even though it’s out in the air, it’s still a contaminant and still harmful,” said Wilemon, adding that constituents are raising issue with her. “This is something that does concern the health and safety and welfare of our citizens.”

Even though it’s out in the air, it’s still a contaminant and still harmful.

Arlington City Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon

A council subcommittee last considered the issue in 2012 and composed a recommendation to the full council that would have included a ban on smoking in all parks, except golf courses. It also would have banned smoking in nightclubs and bowling alleys, but the council ended up taking it off the agenda indefinitely.

Secondhand smoke

The American Heart Association, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t have a stake in the debate over smoke-free parks. Its attention is on lobbying cities to outlaw smoking in all workplaces, to protect employees from secondhand smoke, said Jerry Saavedra, senior local policy manager for the nonprofit organization. Bars and nightclubs appear to be the current battlegrounds.

“We’re not going after smokers,” Saavedra said. “It’s about asking people to step outside.”

The American Heart Association’s map of 58 Texas cities — with a combined 10.3 million residents — that have banned smoking in all indoor workplaces does not include Arlington or Fort Worth, which still allow smoking in bars.

The map does include Dallas, Benbrook, Granbury, Southlake, Flower Mound, Little Elm, Frisco and Plano.

One hurdle to joining those ranks often are the concerns of nightclub owners who fear banning smoking will just redirect their customers to competitors in nearby cities that are more forgiving of smoking.

“That’s been debunked,” said Saavedra, saying studies show that alcohol sales tax revenues hold steady when a city imposes a smoking ban in bars.

Businesses are thriving in Dallas and New Orleans and all these other cities with a comprehensive ordinance. It makes business sense to me.

Connie Kerr, member of the Smoke-Free Arlington campaign

Connie Kerr, a member of Arlington MPAC, a political action committee of women leaders who take on community improvement projects, believes merchants have nothing to fear about a clear air.

“Businesses are thriving in Dallas and New Orleans and all these other cities with a comprehensive ordinance,” said Kerr, who is involved with the MPAC Smoke-Free Arlington campaign. “It makes business sense to me.”

No smoking, except ...

Last month, Dallas approved a smoking ban for city parks that takes effect March 1. It started out as an outright ban, but then the council gave in to a raft of exceptions.

The final ordinance included exceptions for municipal golf courses, a gun and archery range owned by the city and parks managed by private partners — including the Dallas Zoo, the Dallas Arboretum, Lee Park and Fair Park during the State Fair of Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The newspaper cited other large cities with outright bans for parks: Houston, San Antonio, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, and the local suburbs of Richardson and Frisco.

Arlington’s neighbor to the east, Grand Prairie, has smoking restrictions in its city parks. But it grants exceptions to Loyd Park campsites, Lynn Creek Park, on-course areas of city golf facilities and Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie.

Wilemon said a complete ban in Arlington parks also would take care of another problem that has raised her ire — extensive tobacco-related litter.

“It’s not just the smoke itself,” Councilwoman Sheri Capehart agreed. “It’s the butts that are left behind, the litter that is created from cigarette smoke.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST