By Lindsay Carey
The Board of Park Commissioners recently listened to members of the community regarding a potential smoking ban for parks in town, as a way to protect children.
“It’s a better way to go for the children to try to keep tobacco products away from them,” said board Chairman Michael Fasulo.
The proposal for smoke free parks is part of a movement to reduce the youth’s exposure to tobacco products in Southington. The town recently passed an ordinance to keep tobacco products and smoking devices out of sight in businesses that sell these products.
Representatives from Southington’s Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) spoke in favor of the ban.
Kelly Leppard , Youth Prevention coordinator and coordinator of the STEPS Coalition said she feels it necessary to not just to regulate tobacco sale, but also tobacco use in areas around town in order to keep children in town healthy.
Leppard said that the Youth Council recently hung 53 posters downtown for the Apple Harvest Festival, asking people not to smoke.
“Obviously we can’t ban smoking, but we can ask that people keep the festival smoke free, out of consideration for others,” said Leppard.
Trevor Rogers, Catherine Myers, Marissa Mattarazzo, and Isabella Feest, Members of the STEPS Youth Council, spoke to the Park Commissioners at the public hearing in favor of the ban.
Rogers pointed out that smoking around children compromises their health and safety, while Myers challenged the park commissioners to consider their own children when making this decision. Additionally, Feest introduced the concern of potential fire hazards for smoking in parks.
Evelyn Ciaburri, the STEPS Youth Council head, said that in 2000, 22 percent of youth smoked, while in 2014 the percentage has dropped to 9 percent.
Ciaburri said believes the decline in youth smoking is due to rise in anti-smoking campaigns and commercials as well as bans smoking bans in restaurants and other facilities.
“Looking to the future, can we decrease the 9 percent by [banning smoking in parks],” questioned Ciaburri. “If the answer is yes, it is something we need to do.”
Despite the STEPS Coalition’s zeal, not everyone was in favor of the smoking ban. Some residents shared that they feel it is an infringement of rights by town government.
“It’s not like it’s a closed area, its open space,” said David Turci of Plantsville. “We’re talking about banning people who have an addiction from enjoying the parks.”
Turci said he doesn’t smoke, but he is against a total smoking ban in parks. He said he understands banning smoking in specific areas like a ball field, on the bleachers or in a fenced in play area, but he doesn’t see the problem with people smoking in parks in general.
“It’s town government imposing more and more restrictions on citizens,” said Turci.
He also said that he doesn’t believe it to be such a huge danger for children.
“This is being put across as a danger to children and in my mind a bigger danger is kids having this technology at their hands and access to everything on the internet,” said Turci.
He said he believes it is a parent’s responsibility to take control and keep their child from smoking, not the government’s responsibility.
Turci’s opinion was echoed in a letter written to the parks board from Southington resident Kirt Lundy, who could not attend the meeting.
Fasulo read the letter during the public hearing.
“It is the responsibility of the family unit to teach consideration for each other,” said Lundy’s letter.
The Parks Board will now consider whether or not to move forward with the smoking ban, where potential boundaries within parks will be and methods for enforcement.
However, the Town Council will make the final decision on the smoking ban in parks.
By Lindsay Carey