New St. Louis Park policy bans smoking in recreational facilities

Visitors to parks will see fewer cigarettes strewn about the grounds if a new St. Louis Park tobacco-free policy for recreational facilities is effective.

The St. Louis Park City Council approved the new policy Jan. 22, following the lead of 135 other communities and 11 counties in Minnesota that have adopted similar policies.

“Just about everyone around us is doing it or has done it,” Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Walsh said.

A map of metropolitan communities with tobacco-free parks policies shows St. Louis Park as an island surrounded by communities that previously adopted such policies. With rare exception, the map shows a block of cities with such policies stretching from Ramsey, Andover and Ham Lake in the north south to the Minnesota River, with a few communities south of the river, like Savage, Eagan and Rosemount, also adopting such policies.

The new policy would not lead to police citations as St. Louis Park officials opted not to enact an actual ordinance.

“An ordinance is something that has to be enforceable, something that if we were called out to a park area, the police would have to respond and actually enforce it,” Walsh explained. “A policy, which is where the majority of the communities are going, is really a voluntary compliance.”

She added, “We’re hoping voluntary compliance is something that will work in our community. I’m fairly certain that it will.”

Compliance procedures say parks and recreation staff will monitor for compliance, though. Individuals who refuse to stop using tobacco in city outdoor recreational areas could be ejected or removed from the area for the remainder of the day or event.

The Tobacco-Free Parks Organization has advocated for such policies and will provide St. Louis Park with signs prohibiting smoking at outdoor recreational facilities at no cost to the city.

The policy defines outdoor recreational facilities as city-operated playgrounds, athletic fields, picnic shelters, park shelter buildings, the city’s amphitheater, indoor facilities, skate parks, aquatic parks, parks in general, walking and hiking trails, restrooms, concession areas and spectator areas.

In response to a question from Councilmember Julia Ross, Walsh said the policy would not include vehicles parked in city parking lots.

“To my knowledge other communities have not addressed that,” Walsh said. “They would consider individual vehicles as personal property or an area where people can do whatever is legal within their vehicles.”

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission began researching the policy upon the City Council’s request during an annual review of commission goals. City staff contacted the Tobacco-Free Parks Organization for advice. The parks commission also collaborated with the Police Advisory Commission on the effort.

“They talked about it at length,” Mayor Jeff Jacobs said of commissioners. “It’s a testament to the time and energy people put into our commissions and boards in general.”

The policy states, “Tobacco product use in the proximity of children, youth and adults engaging in or watching outdoor recreational activities is unhealthy and detrimental to the health of others.”

The policy adds, “Tobacco products once consumed in public spaces are often discarded on the ground, thus posing a risk of ingestion to toddlers and causing a litter problem.

Organizers of the policy also indicated smoking in parks could emulate bad behavior for young people.

“As parents, leaders, coaches and officials, we are thought of as role models and the use of tobacco products around youth has a negative effect on their lifestyle choices,” the policy states.

“I think this is a wonderful idea,” Councilmember Susan Sanger said. “I’m glad we’re finally getting to do this.”