Smoking at Hamilton County playgrounds soon may come under scrutiny by the Hamilton County Commission.
Next week, the commission will vote on whether to support state legislation that would allow local governments to prohibit smoking on the grounds of any playground owned or operated by the local government.
The bills, House Bill 9/Senate Bill 9, are spearheaded by Knox County Rep. Rick Staples, of District 5, and state Sen. Richard Briggs, of District 7.
"Currently, law prohibits local governments from taking action on a local level regarding smoking. If you choose to be opted into, it would give you as a local government the ability to prohibit smoking in children's playgrounds in Hamilton County," said Becky Barnes, administrator of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. "Smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death and most people who smoke as adults started before they were 18. Clearly we would like to prevent kids on playgrounds from seeing adults smoke and being exposed to secondhand smoke."
Though smoking rates have decreased in recent years, Barnes told commissioners that about 20 percent of adults still smoke. Tennessee has seen slower rates of decline in recent years than other states and products such as electronic cigarettes and vaping are on the rise — especially in teens and young adults.
District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd spoke in favor of the bill and said he would be interested in speaking with its sponsors about including tobacco, as well.
"I think the health issues with people chewing tobacco and spitting in our playgrounds is as high of [a] risk as smoking," he said.
Commissioners also questioned Barnes on whether the prohibition would apply automatically to public parks, but if passed, the legislation would just give local governments the option to pass ordinances banning smoking in parks and playgrounds as they choose.
Tobacco is already prohibited on all Hamilton County Schools campuses, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga recently banned smoking, including vaping and e-cigarettes, from all university-owned and operated property.
The commission will vote on the resolution to support the legislation at its next commission meeting on Feb. 20. SB 9 already unanimously passed the state Senate on Monday.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.