Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said it was easy deciding where to focus his attention for a new countywide health initiative.
"Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of death that is preventable in the county," he said. "Ten times as many U.S. citizens have died of cigarette smoke than have died in all of the wars the U.S. has fought."
So Coppinger and 10 other Hamilton County mayors are banding together to launch a campaign against smoking in public. And he said he will ask the area's legislative delegation to give local towns the authority to ban smoking in public parks and open spaces.
Many of the mayors were present Monday morning for a news conference at the Tennessee Riverpark to announce the initiative.
A billboard campaign was unveiled, featuring a photo of all of the mayors with the slogan, "The Mayors Say It's Time for a Smoke Free Community."
Those billboards will remain up for a month and then be replaced by new ones featuring a photo taken at this morning's event, according to Tom Bodkin, spokesman for the county health department. Smaller metal signs saying "Thank You for Not Smoking" will be installed at parks and public spaces in the 10 towns and Hamilton County, Bodkin said.
The campaign is focused on secondhand smoke — smoke from cigarettes that is directly inhaled by those nearby — and thirdhand smoke, the residue left behind on smokers' clothes, furniture or even pets.
About a quarter of all adults in Hamilton County smoke, according to Janie Burley, Tobacco Settlement Fund coordinator with the health department.
"This will give smokers fewer places to smoke, and maybe force some of them to quit," Burley said after the press conference. "Most smokers want to quit."
The campaign also opposes the use of e-cigarettes, which use battery-powered vaporizers, in public spaces.
"Research has started to come out showing that the same toxic chemicals in cigarettes are also in e-cigarettes," Burley said.
The campaign will be paid for with a small portion of funds from the settlement of a lawsuit against four major tobacco companies.
Those participating in the initiative include Hamilton County Mayor Coppinger and Mayors Katie Lamb (Collegedale), Andy Berke (Chattanooga), Brent Lambert (East Ridge), Ken Wilkerson (Lakesite), Carol Mutter (Lookout Mountain), John Roberts (Red Bank), Janet Kelley Jobe (Ridgeside), Dick Gee (Signal Mountain), Rick Nunley (Soddy-Daisy), and Bill Trohanis (Walden).
Contact Steve Johnson at sjohnson@timesfree press.com, or at 423- 757-6673, or follow him on Twitter at stevejohnsonTF-P.