Smoking at Hamilton County playgrounds may come under scrutiny by commission

Smoking at Hamilton County playgrounds may come under scrutiny by commission

February 13th, 2019 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

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.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd voices his concern about a new building for the Humane Educational Society during a November 2018 meeting.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd voices his concern...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

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.

Becky Barnes, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department administrator has been named a champion of health care. Ms. Barnes was photographed at the health department on July 14, 2017

Becky Barnes, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department administrator has...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

"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 mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.