Lighting up or taking a puff in a place once considered a safe haven by Davenport smokers and vape users may soon land you a $100 fine.
Davenport aldermen this week voiced support for a proposal by the Scott County Health Department to amend city code to prohibit the use of tobacco and nicotine products, including vaping products, in all city parks and park facilities.
The ordinance will go before the city council at its regular meeting on Feb. 10.
Aldermen, and one Davenport vape shop owner, expressed surprise that such a ban was not yet already on the books.
“I’m looking forward to smoke-free parks,” Alderman Matt Dohrmann, Ward 5, said at Wednesday’s city council Committee of the Whole meeting.
The goal is to create smoke- and nicotine-free parks that give families a clean and safe experience, said Kim Mills, community tobacco consultant for the Scott County Health Department.
“Parks are established to promote health activities, and advocacy of tobacco-free and nicotine-free policies in our parks and open spaces is a logical next step in the stewardship of community health and well-being,” Mills said. “Secondhand smoke harms everyone. Even if it’s in outdoor spaces, it can be dangerous.”
Iowa banned smoking in most indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants in 2008, as well as some outdoor areas, including restaurant patios. The state’s Smoke-Free Air Act restricts smoking in buildings or shelters on park property; however, smoking is allowed in outdoor areas, including parking lots, golf courses, trails, campsites and bodies of water. The Iowa law also does not include vaping.
Numerous Iowa cities and counties have banned tobacco products in public parks, and many have banned vaping, according to a database from the Iowa Department of Public Health, as part of a lobbying push over the last several years by the American Lung Association, IDPH, county health departments and youth and family services for comprehensive bans on nicotine products in outdoor public spaces.
Such policies, Mills said “help change community norms.”
“Young people see people smoking and they deem that an acceptable behavior,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to change the next generation.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens and young adults. Nicotine, the CDC warns, is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, including the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.
“So if we can deter young people from starting, I think that is a positive thing,” Mills said. “And in the time of COVID with this respiratory illness, tobacco-free and nicotine-free parks make sense.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year began enforcing restrictions on flavored electronic cigarettes aimed at curbing underage vaping. Under the policy, only menthol and tobacco flavors are allowed for those devices. And the FDA has since taken additional steps to prohibit certain companies from selling youth-appealing, flavored disposable e-cigarettes and flavored e-liquids without authorization.
Sarah Linden, owner of Generation V E-Cigarettes & Vape Bar at 1800 North Division Street, said she supports smoke-free parks, but objects to banning vaping in public spaces.
“Mainly, we oppose any laws that equate smoking to vaping,” Linden said. “We do not wish to be lumped in with tobacco smoking as it creates a misleading public perception that vaping is just as bad for someone’s health as smoking.”
The CDC, though, notes scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes.
Todd Smith, who owns two vape shops in Davenport on Brady and West Locust streets, said he was surprised to learn smoking and vaping was not already prohibited in Davenport parks. He noted the National Park Service prohibits the use of electronic smoking devices in all places where smoking is prohibited in national parks. Vaping is also banned on campus property at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
“You can’t smoke any place in the world anymore, so why wouldn’t (the city) start restricting city land?” Smith said. “I don’t think adults should be walking around smoking in front of kids. And, now, vaping the way it’s taken off, it’s imitating smoking. So, yeah, don’t do it around kids.”
Smith said a ban on vaping in city parks would not hurt his business, noting his sales continue to go up despite increasing restrictions on vaping.
“You can’t vape anywhere anymore,” he said. “What I tell my customers is, ‘If there’s a no-smoking sign, then don’t vape.’ … It’s not a surprise to me, and our business will flourish.”