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Study: Smoke-free park policies slow to catch on

By Kathryn Doyle

NEW YORK — Bans on smoking in public parks are still fairly rare in the United States, despite more than half of states having indoor smoking restrictions, researchers say.

Just 355 counties out of 3,143 across the nation have smoke-free park policies — typically they’re areas where the population is younger, more politically liberal and more well-off, the study team found. But rural and poorer communities should be encouraged to enact them too in the name of public health, they conclude.

“Air quality studies have demonstrated that smoking in outdoor areas such as building entrances or city streets is associated with measurable concentrations of secondhand smoke components, including nicotine and particulate matter,” said the study’s senior author Elizabeth G. Klein.

“Secondhand smoke exposure can cause cardiovascular damage in as little as 30 minutes, so even small amounts of exposure, indoor or outdoor, could be a health concern,” said Klein, of the Division of Health Behavior and Health Promotion at the College of Public Health at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Banning smoking in public parks also helps to “denormalize” smoking, and hopefully leads to fewer young people picking up the habit, she said.

Twenty-eight U.S. states have enacted bans on smoking in all indoor public places, including bars and restaurants.

In three states, New Jersey, Delaware and California, more than half the counties have a policy designating city parks as smoke-free.

New Jersey leads with more than 80 percent of counties having outdoor smoke-free policies.

Seven states, on the other hand, have no such policies: Alaska, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Areas with lower incomes and education levels were least likely to have smoke-free policies, Klein’s team reports in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.