No tobacco in Minneapolis parks

Put out that cigarette before heading to a Minneapolis park. Tobacco products are no longer allowed.

New rules went into effect last week prohibiting all tobacco products including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco on any land owned by the Minneapolis Park Board. The only exception allows for tobacco use for traditional American Indian practices, with prior approval.

The system wide ban is an expansion of the Park Board’s previous rules that made playgrounds, athletic fields and buildings tobacco-free zones. It means some top Minneapolis recreation destinations, from the Chain of Lakes to Minnehaha Falls and the downtown Mississippi riverfront, are smoke-free.

“We’re making policies that allow people to experience parks without tobacco,” said Park Board Commissioner Steffanie Musich, who initiated the change. “We’re trying to help people make a healthy decision.”

The Park Board joins nearly 30 other metro area park systems in prohibiting the use of all tobacco products. But some parks in the Twin Cities are still selective about where they prohibit smoking.

St. Paul bans tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, in areas where there are children’s activities, such as playgrounds, and at athletic fields, said Clare Cloyd, a St. Paul Parks spokeswoman. Smoking also is prohibited in public areas of the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

The suburban Three Rivers Park District also prohibits smoking and use of tobacco products near indoor areas, play areas and beaches, and at some facilities, including Gale Woods Educational Farm and Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area.

At Mill Ruins Park in downtown Minneapolis on Monday, many people expressed support for the new policy.

“I don’t want my kids to see others smoke or have them breathe in the smoke,” Anaya Williamson said. “I want my kids to get fresh air, not smoke-filled air.”

Dan Cortez, who quit smoking a few months ago, said the news of the tobacco-free policy has lifted his morale. “This is great,” he said.

But not everyone was in favor of the ban.

University of Minnesota students Julia Wax and Chris Atkinson said they appreciated the Park Board’s effort but were unsure about how e-cigarettes harm other people. Wax suggested designated smoking areas within the parks, and said he doubted the ban could be enforced.

“It’s cool that the Park Board is making a conscious effort to ban all tobacco products,” said Wax, who does not smoke. “But they should have a small section where smokers can go and smoke.”

Cap O’Rourke, policy director for the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota, who represents more than 100 e-cigarette sellers in the state, said the Park Board should not have included vapor products in its ban.

“If the Park Board really wanted to create a healthier atmosphere in our parks, they would allow vapor products to be used,” O’Rourke said. “People use it to quit or reduce their tobacco intake.”

E-cigarettes heat liquid that often includes nicotine and flavoring, and users inhale the vapors.

If someone is caught using tobacco products, Park Board staff will ask them to stop. After the first year, park staff will begin to remove violators. The Park Board does not have the authority to cite violators. Park officials said they will offer free tobacco cessation classes for park police and staff who use tobacco products.

“We’re confident that people will respect the new policy as we continue to educate the community about the policy’s existence,” said Tyrize Cox, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent for recreation.- by Faiza Mahamud, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)