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Tobacco legislation making it’s way through city council

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On Monday, the Athens City Council conducted the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit use of tobacco products in publicly-owned recreational facilities.

The ordinance, formally titled 0-109-14, will be read twice more before the city council takes a vote. This amendment to Athens’ city code would ban tobacco use in a myriad of public spaces, including parking areas, playgrounds, parks and pavilions.

It will also amend the city code for littering public ways, adding cigarette butts to the list of what constitutes litter, such as cans, bottles, wire, and other environmentally-unfriendly articles.

In conjunction with a proposed hike in littering fines, this amendment will hopefully discourage citizens from littering. The fines for littering cigarette butts will be as follows: $50 for the first offense, $75 for the second, $100 for the third, $120 for the fourth and a $150 fine for the fifth and any subsequent littering offenses.

The ordinance also adds to the city code an amendment called 9.15.04, which calls for any of the aforementioned “public spaces” to be “conspicuously posted ‘tobacco-free,’ ‘no-smoking,’ or ‘smoking prohibited,’” according to the ordinance’s official documentation.

At-Large Rep. Steve Patterson drafted and presented the legislation after Athens resident and father, Thaden Brient, brought his concerns and his research regarding tobacco use in public spaces to a city council meeting last month. Brient was inspired to take action after he noticed that the park where he often took his 9-year-old daughter was filled with littering, fuming smokers.

Brient was worried for the health of his daughter and the other children being exposed to tobacco use, so he conducted an independent study to illustrate to the council the damaging effects of allowing people to smoke in the park. Over the course of 18 months, he spent many hours crafting a strong argument for a no-smoking ordinance.

He collected and tallied the cigarette butts that littered the park grounds. He researched and compiled information that would strengthen his case. After a year and a half, Brient was ready to present his findings and his concerns to the city council.

Brient made an impact, perhaps in more ways than he intended. While his initial goal was to make Athens a second hand smoke-free city, it was Second Ward Rep. Jeffrey Risner who proposed that the ordinance ban all tobacco products from use in publicly-owned spaces.

Fourth Ward Rep. Christine Fahl said she had received negative feedback regarding the ordinance, with some Athenians claiming that the outdoors is “the place to smoke.”

“We all know that cigarette butts are very toxic,” retorted Fahl. “Most people flick them and they end up in our watershed, in our rivers, and [our] streams. They’ll ultimately end up in [the Athens] water supply.”

Americans have the information they need in order to pass judgement on tobacco products. In 2006, the Surgeon General released a report called “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.” Inside, a multitude of facts showing how harmful secondhand smoke, or SHS, can be.

After ordinance number 0-109-14 goes through two more readings, its passage and approval will be in the hands of Mayor Wiehl.

Author’s Note: the original article contained a few errors regarding the extent of where ordinance 0-109-14 will be implemented. Rather than all outdoor spaces in Athens, this legislation will merely extend to publicly-owned recreational facilities. The original also contained false information regarding littering fines. The $150 fine will only be administered after four preceding fines.

*In the name of democratic discourse, we have compiled a list of every city council member and how to contact them. Your voice is an asset.*

President Jim Sands: [email protected]

Clerk of Council Debbie Walker: [email protected]

Representatives At-Large:

Steve Patterson: [email protected]

Christine Knisely: [email protected]

Jennifer Cochran: [email protected]

Ward Representatives:

First Ward Rep. Kent Butler: [email protected]

Second Ward Rep. Jeffrey Risner: [email protected]

Third Ward Rep. Michele Papai: [email protected]

Fourth Ward Rep. Christine Fahl: [email protected]

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