Smoking at the Lewis and Clark Festival Area may soon be banned, but The Dalles City Council doesn’t plan to expend resources to enforce the policy.
On Monday, the council directed attorney Gene Parker and Nolan Young, city manager, to draft a tobacco-free directive for the park at the foot of Union Street.
Teri Thalhofer, director of North Central Public Health District, asked the council to ban even electronic cigarettes, a battery-powered vaporizer that produces an aerosol that resembles smoke.
She said it is important to send a message that the city does not support tobacco use, which was responsible in 2013 for the deaths of 76 people in Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties.
“To change a social norm takes time and it takes persistence,” she said.
She said the city should follow the lead of Wasco County, which has banned smoking around its Seventh Street facilities and Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, which prohibits tobacco on all properties.
“A tobacco-free policy shows respect for the people who live here, who visit here and for the environment,” she said.
Thalhofer and Mary Gale, prevention specialist at the health department, had provided city staff with statistics to show the high cost of tobacco use paid by local residents and Oregonians as a whole.
According to that data, tobacco addiction cost citizens of the state $2.5 billion in 2011, with $1.3 billion in direct medical costs and almost $1.15 billion in lost productivity due to early deaths.
The cost for providing tobacco-related medical care to Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam county citizens in 2011 was $14.3 million and businesses are estimated to have lost $1.25 million in productivity.
Parker started off the June 23 discussion by telling the council that staff had reservations about the effectiveness of a new regulation if no enforcement action was taken.
“But it’s really up to the council,” he said.
Police Capt. Ed Goodman expressed concern about a suggestion by Councilor Dan Spatz that signs be posted to provide citizens with a phone number to report complaints. He said those calls for service would be relayed to officers, who would then have to take time away from patrols and response to criminal incidents in order to respond.
‘Is that where you want to use your police resources?” he asked.
Gale said it was timely for the council to address the issue with a heightened public focus on the dangers of exposure to toxins through second-hand smoke.
“People want to be in venues that are tobacco-free,” she said.
According to Gale, the ban would provide an incentive for smokers to quit. She said federal surveys had found that more than 50 percent of the people who smoke have tried to quit at some point in their lives.
She said many people smoked because “giant conglomerations” had done a good job of marketing tobacco products.
Councilor Dan Spatz agreed with Thalhofer that a tobacco-free policy needed to be applied consistently throughout the city and county. He favored some type of penalty for violating the ban.
“I think there should be some teeth in it,” he said.
Thalhofer told the council that she had been raised by parents who smoked and her mother had died of lung cancer.
She is a survivor of colorectal cancer and believes the disease was caused by exposure to smoke in the family home.
“This is very, very personal to me,” she said.
Mayor Steve Lawrence was concerned that a prohibition on tobacco at the festival area might send smokers to the Union Street undercrossing and bring more littering.
Councilor Carolyn Wood gave strong support for a tobacco-free policy.
“I think we need to do anything we can to discourage smoking,” she said.
The same sentiment was expressed by Councilor Tim McGlothlin, who felt the city’s policy should be drafted in uniformity with those of other agencies.
“You want to make it this culture that everyone follows the ordinance,” he said.
Although city officials did not pursue Spatz’ suggestion to make all public-use areas tobacco-free, they agreed to consider, and possibly adopt, a self-enforcement policy later this summer.