Polk County Commission votes to ban smoking and vaping at county parks

Members of Polk County's chapter of Students Working Against Tobacco addressed commission on dangers of smoking.
Members of Polk County's chapter of Students Working Against Tobacco addressed commission on dangers of smoking.

BARTOW — Polk County commissioners voted Tuesday to ban smoking and vaping in county parks.

But before the vote, two two Polk County 11th-graders, wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the acronym SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco), addressed the commission in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco use.

“Second-hand smoke is associated with thousands of deaths each year,” said Troy Livingstone, 16, of Haines City and the president of Polk's SWAT.

“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke at all,” he said, adding more than a million people worldwide have died from inhaling second-hand smoke.

SWAT Vice President Michel Pascual, 17, added, “Reducing cigarette waste is an important public health step because cigarettes are not biodegradable and the plastic and toxic chemicals in the cigarettes and their filters can be harmful if they enter the water supply.

“Cigarette butts are harmful if ingested by children, pets or marine life,” he said.

Commission Chair George Lindsey said adult leaders with SWAT, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the county attorney had worked on bringing the ordinance forward. 

He said Florida has already banned smoking in its parks and given the cities and counties the discretion to do the same.

Every member of the County Commission voted to approve the ordinance.

The Polk County ordinance prohibits smoking and vaping in county parks open to the public in order to affirm and promote a healthy environment in unincorporated Polk County, said the county website's Public Notices page. The rationale for the ordinance was a repeat of the students concerns, listing second-hand smoke and aerosols from vapes and tobacco product waste as detrimental to human health.

"Cigarettes, cigarette butts, smokeless tobacco, and vapor-generating electronic devices all pose a health threat of poisoning to young children," the ordinance said.

The ordinance authorizes the county manager to designate the parks to be no smoking and no vaping. The parking areas will be allowable smoking areas. Like Florida parks, unfiltered cigars are not included in the smoking ban.

"No smoking or vaping" signs are to be posted at the entrance to the parks and in conspicuous areas such as restrooms, playgrounds and buildings, the ordinance says. Individuals not complying with the smoking ban would be reminded of the ordinance and asked to leave the park if they continue using their tobacco products.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Polk commissioners approve ban on smoking and vaping at county parks