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Forest Grove councilors likely to ban all tobacco from city-owned property

Forest Grove city councilors are about to approve a ban on all forms of smoking and tobacco on all city-owned or leased property, excluding sidewalks and streets — except when particular sidewalks and streets are being used for city-sponsored events.

The ban will extend to cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, pipes, smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, plant products and electronic smoking devices.

If approved at Monday night’s city council meeting, the proposed ban would go into effect 30 days later, on Wednesday, July 9.

There is already a state ban on smoking inside all government buildings and within 10 feet of their entrances, ventilation intakes, windows (if they can be opened) and accessibility ramps.

The city’s ban would expand the no-tobacco area to include all city parking lots, park-and-recreation facilities, and assorted right-of-ways such as the land around the giant flagpole and the city’s east and north entrance signs.

It originally included streets and sidewalks as well, but the city attorney warned of enforcement problems because some of those are governed by easements, so the ban would not apply.

The ban also includes city-sponsored events such as the Forest Grove Farmers Market, Chalk Art Festival, First Wednesday and Holiday Light Parade.

The proposal has been in the works for months, spearheaded by Parks and Recreation Director Tom Gamble, with help from Carla Bennett, public health program coordinator for the Washington County Health Department.

The effort began last fall, around the same time Pacific University officials approached the county health department for help creating a smokefree policy on Pacific’s campuses. One of their questions was about how such a policy would work in Forest Grove’s Lincoln Park, which is cooperatively used and managed by the city and the university.

Around that same time, Bennett said, the health department was starting to offer tobacco-related outreach and education to cities and she discussed Pacific’s question when she met with Forest Grove officials.

Some citizens would like to see the whole city go smoke-free. But that’s something Councilor Elena Uhing, who quit her 30-year smoking habit a decade ago, would not support.

Uhing remembers feeling “almost villainized” when she was a smoker. “Yes, people should live healthy, but I don’t think it’s our job to mandate that,” she said, or to further burden the city’s smoking citizens, who already have to smoke in out-of-the-way places.

Despite her empathy for smokers, Uhing supports the proposed ban partly because people have been asking the council to address outdoor smoke problems for years, she said, starting with the issue of backyard burning and later expanding to include tobacco smoking.

Many residents have asthma or other respiratory issues, including children, “and they suffer greatly during the burning season,” she said.

Three public hearings on the proposed ban drew only supportive comments, although in other venues — including an Oregonian editorial — some people questioned the inclusion of e-cigarettes, which give off not smoke, but vapor, causing virtually no harm to bystanders, according to various studies.

Bennett said it’s still uncertain whether the vapor is safe for bystanders and argued that the nicotine-filled e-cigarettes, which can still harm those smoking them, set just as bad an example for children as regular cigarettes.

Gamble said the secondhand-smoke risk may be minimal from electronic cigarettes, but they’re included in the ban to make enforcement easier.

“It’s that clarity issue,” he said. “If you see vapor or smoke coming up, what is it? It becomes a consistency thing.”

Gamble said consistency was also a factor in extending the ban to the city’s parking lots, even though the secondhand smoke danger there would be “minimal,” according to City Manager Michael Sykes.

If the ban is approved, the city will use media, police and park staff and about $1,000 worth of signs to educate people about it.

Violators will get warning citations during the education period, which is expected to last about a month. After that, violators could incur a civil penalty ranging from $100 to $250.

Gamble said the ban will reduce the hours park staff spend cleaning cigarette butts and help the city promote health and safety.

“I like the idea of promoting health,” said Nathan Seable, a member of the city’s Public Safety Advisory Commission, which voted to support the proposal. “What you permit, you promote.”

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