Smoking, no longer permitted in public buildings, airplanes and most work places and restaurants, is now banned in Bethlehem’s parks.
On Wednesday, Mayor John Callahan announced that the city has joined the “Young Lungs at Play” program, which makes 39 city-owned parks, playgrounds, open spaces and properties jointly owned by the city and the Bethlehem Area School District tobacco-free.
The ban is not intended to be punitive toward smokers, but to limit the exposure that children have to second-hand smoke, officials said. Callahan said he expects the ban to be mostly “self-enforcing,” like other citywide bans on alcohol and litter in parks.
No legislation was necessary to enact the ban, Callahan said. Park policies can be enacted by the city’s chief executive.
“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke indoors or outdoors,” said Myra Pina, executive director of Tobacco Free Northeast PA, which administers the “Young Lungs at Play” program in an eight-county area.
Second-hand smoke has been shown to cause childhood respiratory diseases, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and even hearing loss among teen-agers, Pina said.
“If you think of that child with asthma that’s playing on a playground and standing next to someone who is smoking, that can cause some serious health consequences for that child,” said Kristen Wenrich, the director of the Bethlehem Health Bureau.
“We can also reduce the amount of litter caused by tobacco and create a model environment for our youth.”
The new smoking ban was announced at a news conference at Bernie Fritz Park. Callahan, who was joined by a group of children from the nearby Sayre Child Care Center, was presented with a certificate of recognition by Tomas Aguilar, director of health promotion and risk reduction for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
One of the aims of programs like this is to get teens to stop smoking, Aguilar said. In Pennsylvania, 19 percent of all high school-aged children—enough to fill three major league ballparks—smoke.
Tobacco Free Northeast PA also gave the city 39 signs—denoting the smoking ban—to be placed in city parks. More will be provided once the city’s Health Bureau and Department of Parks make decisions on sign placement.
Tobacco Free Northeast PA is funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
Just having the signs “sends the right message,” Callahan said.