Special Report: Smoking in City Parks

Smoking is not allowed in city parks, but people do it everyday.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Smoking in city parks is not allowed in Little Rock, but FOX16 discovered it still happens daily. City leaders encourage community action to fight the problem.

Leaders implemented the measure four years ago, but some wonder about its effectivess. Cigarette butts can be found along the walking trails.

Vicki Harkreader lets her German Shepherd play at Murray Park where "No Smoking" signs are posted.

"It bothers me that people don't obey those kinds of rules, but you are going to have people that are inconsiderate," Harkreader said.

Doctors say more than 53,000 people die in the U.S. every year from exposure to secondhand smoke. Of those, there are more than 500 adults a year in Arkansas alone.

Secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in those who have never smoked and also places 7,500 children in the hospital.

"Another thing I don't like is when they leave they're cigarette butts all over the place for someone else to clean up," said Harkreader.

Fox16 cameras found a man smoking at War Memorial Park.

He wished to remain anonymous.

"If I'm sitting at this table and they are at that table, I'm going to smoke. Because by the time the breeze blows, they won't even know it," the man said.

He thinks the measure is discriminatory.

When asked whether the policy stopped him from smoking, he said he doesn't pay attention to it.

When informed that it's against city policy to smoke in city parks, his response was, "It's not against the law...they can't even give me a ticket for it."

The man's reason for ignoring the policy has some merit. The no smoking policy is not a city ordinance.

"Typically there are no penalties associated with policies but there are penalties associated with ordinances," said Parks and Rec Director Truman Tolefree.

Tolefree says even though policies have no legal bearing, the city does have options to enforce the measure.

"What that means is that if you are caught in violation of the actual policy, you can be required to vacate the premises," Tolefree said.

Tolefree says the demand has happened in the past.

He also acknowledges upgrading the policy to an ordinance is a possibility, however, he sees no need right now.

"If you attach fines and penalties for those caught in violation of it, it may help to execute the policy better and that kind of thing. But for the most part, we found just by having a policy, it's been quite effective," Tolefree said.

The Arkansas Department of Health says there are many reasons why people should not smoke in parks or any public area. But the main reason is because of the impact it has on small children.

"It teaches them smoking is OK, and that's not the image we want to have," said Department of Health Dr. Gary Wheeler.

Wheeler said secondhand smoke can lead to breathing problems.

"On a warm day in a park, everyone knows how obnoxious the effect of smoke is when you walk through it if there is somebody is standing by and smoking," Wheeler said.

So moving forward to enhance the policy, Tolefree encourages the community to report violators.

"Please bring it to the attention of the manager of that park," Tolefree said.

Tolefree says if a violator is asked to leave because of smoking and doesn't, he or she can be arrested for charges related to disobeying an officer's order.

Call (501) 371-4770 to report violators.
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