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A move to forbid all smoking in Minneapolis parks was put on hold Tuesday night after officials had a heated discussion over their ability to enforce a ban.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was looking to follow a national trend when Commissioners John Erwin and Jon Olson proposed a ban on smoking, including electronic cigarettes, in all city parks by the end of the summer. The policy included language that said smokers could be thrown out of city parks if they did not stop smoking.
But just 30 minutes before the board's meeting, a provision that would have had violators thrown out of the park was removed, and the board's recreation committee ultimately decided to postpone the decision.
Commissioner Anita Tabb, who is on the committee, argued there was a need for more research and public input before any decision was made.
Erwin, who has publicly supported enforcement, was questioned by commissioners on why he eliminated the enforcement. "We should not go around giving people tickets," he said, adding that he believed most citizens would comply.
"Enforcement tools are weaker than the current policies," Commissioner Brad Bourn said. "The policies that we currently have, have a provision for removing people from parks."
Since 2010, people have not been allowed to smoke tobacco products within 100 feet of park buildings, playgrounds, pools and water play areas, beaches, in park buildings and in park vehicles. Violators may "be subject to immediate ejection."
It was not immediately known whether, or when, the recreation committee would reconsider the matter and send it to the full board of commissioners.
Minneapolis was looking to be the latest city to outlaw all smoking in parks, a trend that is growing as cities try to promote healthy living.
Liz Williams of the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation said cities across the country are also adding e-cigarettes to current smoke-free policies. New York City, for example, banned e-cigarettes in public parks in April, Williams said.
"There are environmental issues, litter and the fire risk, and there are broader issues of active living that plays into it," she said.
Alex Hecker was among a group of teenagers with cigars and cigarettes in hand Tuesday afternoon at Thomas Beach, an area where smoking is already forbidden. Hecker said he and his friends use the beach to grill, play music and smoke.
"They are trying to change the atmosphere," he said Tuesday.
"But you can't enforce that."
Commissioner Steffanie Musich told the committee that she sees violators of the current rule at her children's baseball games, at beaches and even outside the board's building. She proposed putting the enforcement language back, but her motion failed.
The enforcement language was taken out by Erwin and Olson after consulting with Park Board attorneys and staff, who questioned ejecting people from parks. Under the current policy, park police have not ejected anyone for smoking, Erwin said.
Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto told the commissioners that he would not have the resources to enforce the ban. Jayne Miller, the Park Board's executive director, said she would not make enforcement a priority for the Park Board.
"I will not ask the staff to go enforce the smoking ban," Miller said.
Bourn said policies should not be put in jeopardy because someone may not be able to enforce it.
"To use that as an argument is an excuse," Bourn said. "To take back the enforcement issues that are in the policy, then we may as well revoke the policy we have in place."
Before the enforcement disagreements, public comment mostly focused on the issue of banning e-cigarettes.
Cap O'Rourke, who represents dozens of e-cigarette sellers for the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota, told Park Board commissioners at the meeting that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to cigarettes and those smokers should not be lumped in with regular tobacco users.
'Sending the wrong message'
"These are people have largely been using cigarettes their entire life, and to tell them that they are exactly the same as smokers, it's sending the wrong message," O'Rourke said.
Mark Blackowiak, a smoker for 40 years, told the board that e-cigarettes were the way for him to quit. "I think for you to include them in your smoking ban is far outreaching," he said.
Alejandra Matos · 612-673-4028