Elgin parks turning tobacco-free

  • Joseph Madrid, left, and Xochitl Gomez, both 15, are among members of the Youth Leadership Academy program in Elgin who successfully petitioned the city council to make parks tobacco-free.

    Joseph Madrid, left, and Xochitl Gomez, both 15, are among members of the Youth Leadership Academy program in Elgin who successfully petitioned the city council to make parks tobacco-free. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 
Updated 11/19/2015 5:03 PM

A youth-lead initiative will soon turn Elgin's parks and recreational facilities into tobacco-free zones.

The Elgin City Council committee of the whole unanimously approved Wednesday banning all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and more, in such places. A final vote is expected in two weeks, after which the city will launch a public information campaign and place signage where needed.

 

The city's parks and recreation advisory board also endorsed the ban, which excludes the city's three golf courses, the lawn area of Festival Park during certain events -- such as concerts -- and the Elgin Sports Complex during certain events that don't involve youths.

The move was prompted by members of the Youth Leadership Academy, who gave presentations to the city council and parks advisory board earlier this year. Their project was funded by a $3,500 grant through the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"I feel great," said 15-year-old Joseph Madrid, a student at Elgin High School. "To think that we worked so hard on creating the ordinance and meeting with certain people, and trying to get it done. The fact that it all pulled off, it's really satisfaction."

Fellow group member Xochitl Gomez, also 15 and a student at Larkin High School, said she was "jumping in her chair" when she got the news. "Something that I worked so hard on actually was approved," she said. "It's really important because a lot of times people smoke in parks and there are little kids there."

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Council members praised the students for their efforts.

"I thought they gathered a lot of information, facts and figures, and did a great job," Councilman Rich Dunne said.

In addition to the positive effects on health and the environment, it's great to show youths they can make a difference, Councilwoman Rose Martinez said.

The ordinance calls for fines from $100 to $250. Councilman John Prigge asked how that would be enforced, to which Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley responded that, at least in the first instance, the city staff would begin by "politely reminding" residents of the new policy.

Mayor David Kaptain said endorsing the ban was not an easy decision.

"I can understand somebody out on a picnic on a Saturday and they might like to sit with their family and have a smoke," he said. However, "we have to really look at fairness to everybody and think of other people's concern, even though it doesn't impact us."

More than 900 municipalities nationwide had smoke-free parks as of January 2014, according to data from The Respiratory Health Association cited by officials.

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