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September 22, 2021

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Las Vegas considers a ban on smoking at public parks

Downtown Parks

Steve Marcus

A covered play area in Lorenzi Park on Washington Avenue between Rancho Drive and Valley View Boulevard Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012.

A proposed ordinance would ban smoking in all city of Las Vegas parks, following in the footsteps of more than 900 municipalities across the country, according to the Respiratory Health Association.

The new bill put forth by Ward 1 City Councilman Brian Knudsen would expand existing restrictions on smoking in parks, making it illegal to smoke virtually anywhere in city parks. It would also add e-cigarettes to the restrictions.

The goal of the ordinance is to improve quality of life in parks for residents, especially children, Knudsen said. He decided to propose the measure after some residents expressed concerns that a recently approved marijuana dispensary could lead to an increase in smoking in parks.

“I didn’t realize the city allowed for smoking in parks, so I saw that as an opportunity to meet the needs of that neighborhood,” Knudsen said.

Smoking marijuana is illegal in virtually any public place in Nevada, including parks, but the ordinance reiterates the state ban on that activity as well.

Current city law prohibits smoking in parks within 50 feet of bleachers, children’s play areas, sidelines and perimeter fences of sports fields, said Dorian Stonebarger, special assistant in Ward 1. Under Knudsen’s proposed ordinance, the only circumstances under which smoking in parks would still be allowed is during Native American cultural ceremonies, she said.

As a member of the Southern Nevada Health District’s Board of Health, Knudsen hopes the ordinance will encourage healthy behavior.

“My job is to protect quality of life as best as I can, and this is one avenue of making sure Las Vegas is on the path toward creating a healthier environment for people who live, work and play here,” he said.

The health district assisted North Las Vegas in crafting a similar smoking ban in public parks that passed the North Las Vegas City Council unanimously in May, said Maria Azzarelli, manager of the office of chronic disease prevention and health promotion at the health district. The agency looks forward to seeing Las Vegas’ ordinance and is willing to help get the word out if and when it goes into effect, Azzarelli said.

The health district receives phone calls from parents and families frustrated by cigarette smoking and vaping in public parks near children’s play areas or sports fields, Azzarelli said. Parks are one of the few places where children have the opportunity to be active and improve their health, something they should be free to do without exposure to secondhand smoke, she said.

“Especially now, as it’s getting cooler and more enjoyable to go out into these outdoor environments, we want it to be a healthy outdoor environment for people,” Azzarelli said.

Including vaping in the ban will hopefully discourage that activity as well, Knudsen said. About 13% of youth and 5% of adults in Clark County smoked e-cigarettes as of 2017, according to Azzarelli, although the health district suspects those numbers are underestimates. The Centers for Disease Control reports that vaping has been linked to 42 deaths nationwide and thousands of illnesses, including four in Clark County.

“Because of the uncertainties of the outcomes of health related to vaping, I thought it was important and prudent and put it into the ordinance as well,” Knudsen said.

Banning smoking in parks could also reduce the prevalence of cigarette butts, which volunteers spend many hours removing from parks, Knudsen added.

“I hope we have some impact and that there’s fewer cigarette butts to clean up, so they can focus their efforts on other things in our community,” he said.

The ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday’s council meeting. No vote will be taken for at least a few weeks, after it is heard by the Recommending Committee.