Roeland Park considers banning smoking in public parks — which Johnson County cities already do?

The idea of making public parks completely tobacco free appears to have support from Roeland Park residents, with more than 70% of respondents to recent citizen surveys saying they were either "supportive" or "very supportive" of such a policy. Photo credit Shannon Holman/Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Roeland Park could soon become the next Johnson County city to ban smoking and all tobacco products in or near its public parks.

Five councilmembers at a city council workshop this week voiced support for bringing such a measure to the full council for consideration. Ward 2 Councilmember Jennifer Hill said she preferred a smoking ban in all parks “as we would in any public domain, any public property.”

“Really, I think at this point in 2021, the only place that smoking is allowed is in your own home, and that is to protect other people and the environment,” Hill said.

If enacted, Roeland Park wouldn’t be the first Johnson County to ban smoking in its public parks.

The Public Health Law Center issued a report in February 2019 on tobacco-free parks policies that identified 33 city and county jurisdictions in Kansas, including Lenexa and Westwood Hills.

Other Kansas cities with tobacco-free parks include Atchison, Great Bend, Hutchinson and Lawrence.

Citizen surveys show support for idea

The idea appears to have the backing of residents.

A question on the 2019 Citizen Survey — “How supportive are you of making all the parks in the City of Roeland Park smoke free?” — received 604 responses, according to council documents and Assistant City Administrator Jennifer Jones-Lacy.

Excluding 19 respondents who said they didn’t know, 60% said they were very supportive, 17% were neutral and 12% were supportive.

On the other hand, just 6% were not supportive and 5% were not at all supportive.

Mayor Mike Kelly, who also supports a smoking ban in all parks, said data from the American College of Cardiology showed smoking bans significantly reduced heart attack risk, especially among young people and nonsmokers.

He asked whether having designated smoking areas at smaller parks would negatively affect “others that prefer a smoke-free environment.”

Councilmembers consider two alternatives

Ward 1 Councilmember Tom Madigan said that the city’s Parks and Trees Committee voted earlier this month to ban smoking only in specific areas of parks and that he agreed with that policy.

The committee recommended limiting smoking within 15 feet of park features including playgrounds, restrooms, courts and shelters, rather than designating specific smoking areas, according to council documents.

“I think we have to remember that we are a city for all ages, and there are young people and old people that smoke,” Madigan said. “I have no problem banning it anywhere that children are playing or the bathrooms, the pavilion, anything like that. We still have to accommodate other people. And let’s not forget we’re out in the open air.”

But Ward 2 Councilman Benjamin Dickens countered, saying, “Smoke doesn’t stay in designated areas; it fills the space.”

Councilmembers considered two sample smoking ordinances, one completely banning smoking in parks and the other allowing designated smoking areas.

Both ordinances define tobacco products as “any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether smoked, heated, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means, including but not limited to, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, chewing, tobacco, pipe tobacco, and snuff.”

Fines possible

Both sample ordinances stipulate the following maximum fines plus court costs:

  • First violation: $100
  • Second violation within one year of the first: $200
  • Third or subsequent violation within one year of the first: $500

Ward 1 Councilmember Jan Faidley asked whether Roeland Park Police would realistically be able to patrol parks for smokers.

Ward 4 Councilmember Jim Kelly said that in addition to an ordinance imposing fines, enforcement “would also give our bike patrol something to do.”