Outdoor smoking ban 'ties to mission' of Naperville parks

Smoking and public parks don't go together in places such as Buffalo Grove, Elmhurst, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Gurnee, Schaumburg and Vernon Hills, and that soon may be the case in Naperville, too.

In bans enacted as long ago as the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, more and more towns have prohibited smoking in outdoor public parks or during outdoor sporting events, saying no-smoking policies send the right message to children and protect public health.

In Naperville, where officials are considering a ban in advance of an Aug. 9 vote, some park board members say they support a rule against all forms of smoking or tobacco use - including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and vaping devices - because it matches their mission. The park district exists, park board Vice President Rich Janor said, quoting its mission statement, to "promote healthy lives, healthy minds and a healthy community."

"With that being our mission, how could we possibly condone smoking in the park? It just seems contrary," Janor said. "It seems to me there would be no reason not to move forward with something like this, especially as it ties to our mission."

Naperville officials are considering an outdoor smoking ban after a few residents brought to their attention a negative interaction with a baseball player who was smoking at Nike Sports Complex and "chose not to use common sense," Executive Director Ray McGury said.

The ban would require smokers to go to the parking lot or the nearest public street where parking is permitted if they would like to smoke near one of the district's 137 parks. Signs would be posted to inform park users of the rule.

Park district Attorney Derke Price said having the ban on the books would allow park patrons to call district police if someone refused to stop smoking or move to a parking area. Allowing smoking in parking lots or on nearby streets makes the ordinance easier to enforce by drawing an obvious line between where the behavior is permitted and where it isn't, he said.

Exempt from the proposed ban would be the Naperville Riverwalk, a 1,75-mile path through downtown maintained by the park district but not under its sole jurisdiction, and the district's two golf courses, Naperbrook and Springbrook.

The district already governs the golf courses differently than other parks, mainly by allowing alcohol sales there, Price said. Plus, many golfers want to smoke on the course.

"That's the customer base," Price said.

Park board President Mike Reilly said his only concern is overregulation. If the district enacts the ban on smoking in outdoor parks because of one scenario brought up by residents, could others want music banned from the parks as well? Or dogs? Then what?

The recent complaint about smoking in a park is isolated.

"We haven't had an influx of people coming forward complaining about this," Janor said.

But the recent issue gives park officials a reason to consider the topic.

Reilly encouraged others on the board to talk with residents before Aug. 9 to gather input. So far, he said, those with whom he has spoken are split. Some say the district should ban smoking in outdoor parks, while others question the need for another regulation.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people that do smoke are considerate of other people," Reilly said. "So it's not a problem."

Smoking already is prohibited within all park district buildings and within 15 feet of their entrances.

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