The Kennesaw City Council voted 3-2, with council members Leonard Church and Jim Sebastian opposed, to approve an ordinance removing smoking areas from city parks, making Kennesaw’s 130 acres of public parks smoke free. The ordinance also includes the city’s public cemeteries.
Kennesaw’s parks have been smoke-free since 2005 with the exception of the designated smoking areas.
During the public hearing on the ordinance, four citizens spoke in favor of removing the designated smoking areas from city parks, three spoke against it and one said the ordinance shouldn’t include cemeteries.
“I think the decision we made was the best decision for our community. And they’re not always easy decisions,” Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said, addressing those who opposed the ban at the end of the meeting.
The amendment has drawn criticism from some residents for its similarity to a proposal by the City Council in 2013 which would have banned smoking in all public areas in the city.
“This is not what we brought up before, and, actually, I didn’t even bring this one up. Our staff came to us and said it was a problem, and could we please address it,” Eaton-Welsh said.
The city’s Parks and Recreation staff brought the matter to the council’s attention because the designated smoking areas are not being honored, she said.
“People aren’t respecting them. So, there are people smoking around the trail while people are running or walking or doing whatever it is they do on the trail. There are people smoking inside our dog park and leaving their cigarette butts all over the dog park. There are people smoking in the children’s playground,” Eaton-Welsh said.
Some residents said as much during the public hearing.
“I am appalled when I take my grandchildren to Swift-Cantrell (Park) and have to dodge the skaters with cigarettes in their hands on the sidewalks. It’s very offensive to me, and I wish that the ban gets passed,” said Kennesaw resident James Moore.
Councilmember Debra Williams shared a similar story involving a smoker in a children’s playground area. When the smoker finished her cigarette, Williams said she flicked the still-lit butt into the play area.
“A kid came off the sliding board. When he hit the bottom, he fell over. And guess where the palm of his hand fell? On that lit cigarette. Did she bother to come and check and see if he was ok? No. That’s where I have my issue. It’s not that you smoke. Truly, it is not. It’s where you put your butts,” she said.
Williams added if smokers had followed the rules and only smoked in the designated areas, “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
Many of the residents who spoke in opposition to the ordinance said they were doing so not because they were smokers, but because they objected to the principle of the law.
“It is not right in a free society to limit and restrict the freedoms of law-abiding citizens. This ordinance reaches outside the boundaries of good government,” said Patricia Powers of Kennesaw.
Councilmember Church echoed this sentiment later in the meeting.
“I am tired of small government interfering in our lives,” Church said. “I don’t think it’s right to take that liberty away from smokers.”
Councilmember Tim Killingsworth addressed these concerns at the end of the meeting.
“I understand freedoms,” he said. “I understand people’s rights, and I stand up for people’s rights to be able to go and smoke in their private home or in their car and wherever. But unfortunately, those smokers’ freedoms stop when they infringe on the rights of … other people to breathe.”