Tobacco-free park

A sign warns park-goers of a tobacco-free zone Wednesday at Glen Lake Rotary Park in Bozeman. Glen Lake is one of two pilot tobacco-free parks in the city.

Bozeman parks could become tobacco-free zones if local health officials have their druthers.

This week, Heather Demorest, a tobacco prevention specialist at the Gallatin City-County Health Department, pitched tobacco-free parks to the Bozeman City Commission.

Demorest said for the first time in decades, tobacco-use among minors is increasing and steps like tobacco-free parks change social norms, which could prevent teens from smoking or vaping in the first place.

She added there’s no safe level of second-hand smoke, indoors or outdoors, and smoke-free parks help keep land clean.

“Cigarette butts are the single most littered item in the United States. It’s over a third of our litter,” Demorest said. “This litter is toxic, it can take up to 15 years to biodegrade and 80% of this litter ends up in our waterways.”

This week’s presentation doesn’t change anything yet. City commissioners would have to take action to designate the city’s parks as a place where things like cigarettes or vape products aren’t welcome.

The presentation was a long-time coming.

Demorest said the health department started talking about the potential of tobacco-free parks in 2015. In 2017, the department and city recreation department worked together to test how the policy change could work.

They put up smoke-free signs at Glen Lake and Kirk parks. She said smoking and tobacco litter decreased in both places as a result.

The same year, the health department also hosted an online survey in which more than 200 people responded. Out of that, 33% of people said they would visit parks more often if smoking wasn’t allowed. More than half said they were negatively impacted by tobacco-use in parks.

Demorest said smoke-free places make it easier for people with asthma or chronic bronchitis to find safe places to play. Roughly 12% of Bozeman residents have asthma and 7% of children in town have the respiratory condition, she said.

Bozeman wouldn’t be the first place in Montana to make the move. Helena, Great Falls and Missoula have tobacco-free parks.

City commissioners asked Demorest how the change could happen in Bozeman and how it would be enforced.

Demorest suggested if the city does move ahead with smoke-free parks, to do it through a resolution — not a city ordinance. That means having people follow the rule would rely on social pressure instead of law enforcement and citations.

Bozeman Parks and Recreation Director Mitch Overton told commissioners the pilots based on that framework worked better than he expected.

“The enforcing socially, the norms of less tobacco use, has been encouraging,” Overton said. “Operationally, one of the greatest benefits that we’ve seen is the reduction of tobacco litter, that was a very big surprise to use and that was significant.”

Demorest said the health department would pay for signs in each city park and those that eventually need to be replaced.

Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus said she wants to do more research before she would support a resolution.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham said tobacco-free parks feel like a “no-brainer.” He asked why the department didn’t go to Gallatin County with the request.

“We ended up working with partners who wanted to work with us,” Demorest responded. “The Bozeman city parks board was really on board with this ... we thought that would be a good place to start and it could set precedents for a county-level policy.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.