Wrightsville Beach parks could become tobacco-free.
A presentation by Regina Penna, New Hanover County Health Department employee, launched a discussion about a stricter tobacco-use policy at town parks during a July 7 meeting of the Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.
Penna spoke to the committee about Project ASSIST, a tobacco prevention coalition that includes New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties. She said even outdoor exposure to tobacco smoke can impact nearby nonsmokers.
“The Surgeon General has said in his [most recent]report that there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke,” Penna said.
She suggested eliminating the use of tobacco products in public spaces serves other purposes beyond limiting public exposure to secondhand smoke.
“The whole thing that I’m focused on trying is to de-normalize the use of tobacco in our community. For kids what that does, if they don’t see people doing it … it changes their perception of what is acceptable behavior,” Penna said, adding that smoking bans and restrictions also provide an easier climate for tobacco-users who are trying to quit.
“If the community is structured so that it reflects that non-tobacco use is the norm, it makes it easier for someone to quit,” Penna continued.
No rules or regulations prohibit smoking in town parks and recreational areas. New Hanover County parks are not tobacco-free but smoking is limited to parking lots.
A 2009 law passed by the N.C. General Assembly, sometimes referred to as the Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law, gives local governments the authority to enact tobacco regulations that are stricter than state laws.
Katie Ryan, Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Program Supervisor, said she rarely sees people smoking at parks but she has noticed piles of cigarette butts in the trash after groups use the town recreation center.
Committee member Catherine Brunjes asked if other New Hanover County beach towns had tobacco-free parks. Penna said they did not.
With Brunjes, Patricia Green, Katrina Morton and Elise Running in attendance, the discussion was tabled for further consideration when more committee members are present and will resume during the Aug. 4 meeting.