Fulton County bans smoking in county parks

Darrell Hooker (left), prepares for a tennis lesson with Scott Ross at Trammell Crow Park. “I want to know how they are going to enforce it” Ross said of the smoking ban. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Darrell Hooker (left), prepares for a tennis lesson with Scott Ross at Trammell Crow Park. “I want to know how they are going to enforce it” Ross said of the smoking ban. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Since Ella Nicholson quit smoking five years ago, she can’t stand the smell of cigarettes. Still, she thinks if someone is smoking and she doesn’t like it, she should be the one to move away.

Fulton County commissioners think she shouldn't have to. On Wednesday, they unanimously passed a smoking ban in Fulton parks and recreation centers. Those who smoke in county parks could be charged with a misdemeanor, fined $1,000 and spend up to 60 days in jail.

After all, second-hand smoke is serious business. Annual health care costs in Georgia related to second-hand smoke are nearly $200 million, according to the state Department of Public Health. The county estimated about 14 percent of residents are smokers.

Nicholson said not many people smoke in the park she frequents, Trammell Crow, west of Atlanta. But Scott Ross, a tennis instructor, is one who does.

“That’s crazy, that’s too much,” he said of the potential punishment. “I’m sure that would penalize somebody’s income or job. It’s penalizing people who can’t help it.”

Ross said he’s not addicted, but enjoys “three or four” cigars a day. He’s not sure how the county will enforce the new rule.

In a county poll of nearly 1,000 residents, about three-quarters were in favor of smoke-free parks. In addition to passing the ban, commissioners committed to educating residents about the ills of smoking, as well as helping them quit, through the county’s department of health and wellness. Signs saying smoking is prohibited in the parks will soon be posted.

“It is our aim to protect the welfare of Fulton County citizens and to ensure public health and safety for residents who utilize our parks and recreational facilities,” Commissioner Joan Garner said in a statement.

Other counties and cities that have smoke-free recreation areas include Clayton, Henry, Newton and Oconee counties, and Kennesaw, Roswell, Duluth and Alpharetta. Some places, like Atlanta, Savannah and DeKalb County, have designated smoking areas in parks.

Nija Singleton doesn’t smoke, but she thinks designated smoking areas would be more fair to those who do. As long as people aren’t smoking near playgrounds, she thinks they should have some ability to light up.

“They took it from inside; they shouldn’t take it from outside,” she said. “Smoking is legal.”

County commissioners said the aim of the smoking ban was to improve public health and welfare. In addition to prohibiting pipes, cigars and cigarettes, it prevents people from vaping or using hookahs at parks.

A former smoker, Charles Charles thinks the ban will help model better behavior for children who might see teenagers or adults smoking while they play on the playground. He thinks the punishment is excessive, though — a $25 fine would be discouragement enough.

But Larry Powell thinks the fine itself could help get people to quit.

Powell is allergic to smoke, but wouldn’t ask someone to put their cigarette out — he said he wouldn’t want a confrontation. He thinks the financial hit, though, would be a deterrent to smokers. And in addition to clearer air, he said fewer tossed butts would mean cleaner parks and a lower likelihood of fires.

“As soon as someone gets popped, they’re going to tell all their friends,” Powell said. “I think it’s appropriate. Second-hand smoke’s a killer.”