15 Sep 2014
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Backers, Critics of Smoking in Parks Seem Agreeable to Separation Option

Lines of communication open wider at West Hills High School forum that attracted 30 people.

Santee residents on both sides of the smoking-in-parks issue appeared to agree Wednesday night on the idea of a smoking area of the park—away from kids and others.

The group seemed to agree that it’s not much different from the recent of the park to keep animals away from people who don’t like them off leash.

“It’s better to be inclusive instead of so divisive,” said one of about 30 attendees at a West Hills High School forum.

The curious and concerned—including parents, kids, athletes and local leaders— to discuss the health, freedom, environmental and other issues surrounding cigarette smoking, specifically considering a .

The was held at and featured guest speakers Dr. Philip Szold of La Mesa Pediatrics, Alan Smith, an epidemiologist from the County of San Diego, and Michael Sawdy of the SDSU School of Public Health.

The forum focused on Santee’s status as that allows cigarette smoking in city parks.

The issue has raised debate about two issues— vs. the outdoors, and the forum gave an opportunity for those two sides to talk face-to-face.

The speakers talked about everything from the toxicity of cigarette butts to the health hazards posed by outdoor secondhand smoke, and the audience was given a chance to ask questions and discuss the issues.

Councilmen and attended the meeting and the final half-hour consisted of an open dialogue about the politics of the issue and what the general attitude of Santee city government might be (it has been cold until now).

Both said they had learned something new at the forum.

McNelis said his parents were serious chain smokers, so he’s no fan of smoking, but he currently falls on the side of those who don’t think another law is required.

“I’m all about promoting people to live a healthier lifestyle, but not dictating,” said McNelis.

“I don’t think it’s government’s job to tell you what you can and can’t do,” he said, echoing the general sentiment of the .

Dale, who said he enjoys a cigar every-now-and-then, was of the opinion that this is an issue with many merits, but has the potential to get out of hand.

“We’re not going to have cops in the park, but like dog park, users will enforce it,” said Dale.

But he worried that the debate could be a slippery slope that would stray into much more difficult issues to decide, like the right to smoke in your own backyard if it bothers a neighbor.

In the end, Dale said he wasn’t rushing the issue, but that the public might expect health issues, including smoking, to be brought up at City Council in the next couple years, especially in conjunction with a push for healthy living that is being developed by San Diego County.

“I hope to bring this issue forward and have that conversation,” said Dale.

One speaker displayed statistics gathered by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency that show that Santee had a significantly higher rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) hospitalization and deaths and lung cancer deaths in 2009.

Dale said he wonders how the relatively new has changed the lung disease statistics in Santee, and finished the night off saying “the power plant causes me grand concern,” referring to the proposed gas-powered plant to be built near .

One of the biggest contingents supporting a ban are parents who do not want their children exposed to the .

It was brought to the attention of the group that smoking has been banned within 25 feet of outdoor playgrounds and sand boxes since 2003. The only Santee park to display any signage indicating this law is , but the councilmembers in attendance said City Hall is currently working on putting up signs next to city playgrounds.

One of the most moving comments was made by a local teen runner that has asthma.

“I can smell smoke from about a block away, and it hurts,” he said. “I don’t think people realize what they are doing to those around them.”

Dr. Szold, the pediatrician, said there is no doubt that secondhand smoke will worsen matters for someone with asthma.

Szold said the U.S. smoking rate is 26 percent and California is at 11.9 percent. He said the reason it’s dropped is because of “nickeling and dimming,” a lot of little laws like park smoking bans.

arranged the event, and has been spearheading public interest in a smoking ban at Santee parks since in an annual report released by the American Lung Association in January.

“I was disappointed with the turnout considering all the people who said they supported the cause,” Spencer said. “But at the end of the day I think it was positive that we had several good speakers and the two Councilmembers were able to take a lot in.”

Other organizations in attendance included the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the .

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