New London considers smoking ban at parks, beaches

New London - A City Council committee is considering a proposed ordinance to prohibit smoking in city parks and beaches.

Although an ordinance has not yet been draw up, the Public Welfare Committee held a public hearing Monday night to hear from residents.

Ten people spoke at the hearing, and all but one were in favor of banning smoking in parks, beaches and around public buildings.

The New London Community and Campus Coalition, along with members of ACHIEVE - a group of 25 professionals and New London residents who promote a healthier city - asked the council to adopt an ordinance to ban smoking 30 feet from entrances and exits of public buildings, and at all city parks, playgrounds and beaches.

A similar ban was proposed last summer but it died in committee.

The two groups presented the committee with a four-page letter outlining the need for the ban, including saving children from secondhand smoke and citing health costs associated with treating smokers.

"We support tobacco-free areas,'' Stephanie Spargo of the Southeast Regional Action Council, said Monday night during the hearing. She added that there are 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, many of them known carcinogens.

Also advocating for the ban was Tony Mollica, the head of New London Community Campus Coalition, and Bruce D. Cummings, president and chief executive officer of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

"Smoking is the major contributing factor to heart disease,'' Cummings said. "You should consider this ordinance because of the intrinsic public health benefits."

But there was one dissenter in the group.

Keith Robbins, who spoke against the ordinance, said he is an avid cigar smoker who enjoys a walk or sitting on a park bench smoking.

"I only sit on a bench that is unoccupied,'' he said. "And if someone sits down and is offended, I tell them they can move on, I was here first.''

He said there are already ordinances in place to address littering of butts and ashes and they should be enforced.

The committee closed the hearing and took no action, but after the meeting Chairwoman Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran said she would draft a proposed ordinance for future discussion.

Last year the council's Education Parks & Recreation Committee voted against a similar ban that had been proposed by the Parks & Recreation Commission.

The parks commission had voted to support posting "smoke-free parks" signs in all 22 of the city's parks and Ledge Light Health District had committed to provide signs once the city gave the go-ahead.

The proposal died in committee after a tie vote and was never voted on by all seven members of the City Council.

Groton and Montville both have a similar "no smoking" rules for playground and parks where children are present.

In New York City, it is illegal to smoke in city parks, beaches, boardwalks and public plazas, like Times Square. Violators can be fined $50.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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