Spectators who smoke unwelcome in Carroll

Tobacco to be banned at youth sports events

January 17, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare and Brenda J. Buote | Mary Gail Hare and Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll County is on the verge of banning the use of tobacco products during youth recreational activities on private and public playing fields, becoming the first Baltimore-area locality to make the sidelines smoke-free.

The policy is consistent with that of national sports organizations such as Little League and the American Soccer Association, said Gary Horst, Carroll's director of enterprise and recreation.

"We have a growing concern that even casual exposure to smoke can trigger problems such as asthma for children," said Horst. "We won't allow tobacco in dugouts or in the stands."

People using any tobacco product - pipes, cigars or cigarettes or chewing tobacco or snuff - will not be allowed within 50 yards of a playing field or a recreational program if the policy is adopted by the commissioners today,as expected. Smoking is already banned at indoor arenas, during youth events, and at school areas.

"This policy will be in effect at all recreation council sponsored youth programs regardless of location and includes school, county park, municipal park and private locations," the policy says.

All 18 Carroll recreation programs support the ban and have agreed to enforce it on more than 175 parks and fields, Horst said. People using tobacco products will be asked to go to their vehicles.

One parent's concerns prompted the proposed Carroll ban.

Clare Kazyak of Westminster, said her 12-year-old daughter frequently had to leave her soccer games when smoke from the sidelines caused breathing trouble. The child also could not watch her brother's baseball games because of second-hand smoke in the stands.

"I recognize that refraining from smoking may be a difficult task for some people," Kazyak wrote in a letter to Jeff Degitz, Carroll's bureau chief of recreation, last year. "However, I believe that it is far more reasonable to ask adults to either refrain during the time it takes to watch a youth sporting event than it is to ask a particularly sensitive asthmatic child not to breathe."

Only Talbot County on the Eastern Shore has "no smoking" signs posted in its parks. There has been no difficulty implementing the policy, said Talbot officials. Prince George's County officials also are considering a ban.

Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties have no such bans.

The policy, while laudable, could be difficult to enforce, said Don Lin, parks administrator for Anne Arundel.

"While we support the concept, we believe it's unenforceable and we don't believe in making rules we can't enforce," said Lin. "We have more than 8,000 acres of parkland spread over 132 sites. We can't be everywhere at all times."

Howard County bureau chief of recreation and administrative services, Laura Wetherald, said "I see the reason for this but how will they monitor it? Are they going to give out smoking citations? Will recreation councils be police officers? People come to these games to watch children play. They want to enjoy themselves and they don't want to get into confrontations."

Del. John S. Arnick of Baltimore County introduced a ban on outdoor smoking, similar to Carroll's, in the General Assembly last year. It died in committee.

Thomas Humber, president of the National Smokers Alliance, which is based in Alexandria, Va., said the policy would set off alarms.

"While we recognize the government's right to do this, we think these kinds of restrictions go too far," Humber said. "We oppose them on the basis that restrictions on outdoor use are unnecessary and set up another confrontational situation between smokers and non-smokers in an area where there doesn't need to be one."

"I would like to give it some more thought, but I think it's a good idea for them to be positive role models," Carroll Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said of proponents of the ban. "If that's what the recreation councils want to do, I would support that."

Board president Julia Walsh Gouge echoed Frazier's comments. "If the rec councils are recommending it, I don't see any problem supporting it. I think it would send a very positive message to our young people," she said. Commissioner Donald I. Dell could not be reached for comment.

Rec councils sponsor 95 percent of all youth sports activities within Carroll. About 24,000 children are registered in various programs.

"The councils felt strongly about setting an example for kids and about second-hand smoke issues," said Degitz. "They have all seen a draft of the policy and had the opportunity for input. We are encouraged that no one said `don't do it.'"

Degitz hopes the policy does not affect the numbers of adult volunteers in the recreation programs, several of whom are smokers. "We rely so heavily on volunteers and we are hoping the positive aspects of this outweigh other considerations," he said. "We are trying to highlight all the health benefits here."

Compliance with the ban is another way for adults to set a good example for those who look on them as role models, he said.

Council members reiterated those sentiments yesterday. "As far as I'm concerned, people can smoke but not near my children," said Joe Bach, president of the Carroll Area Recreation Council and the North Carroll Recreation Council.

Judy Baker, a member of the county's Board of Parks and Recreation and the Deer Park Recreation Council in Gamber, said she will have no problem asking smokers to use their cars rather than a designated smoking area.

"As far as I'm concerned, they can go to their cars to smoke," Baker said. "If we designate a specific place for them to smoke, who is going to pick up after them? On the whole, a lot of people respect the fact that others - be it an adult or a child - could be allergic to cigarette smoke, but still there have been problems."

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