Mpls. Parks Board ponders smoking, vaping ban

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minneapolis Parks Board debated a proposed ban on smoking and vaping Wednesday night, then referred the issue back to a committee for more work.

Smoking tobacco is already banned in many spots in the Minneapolis park system, especially in areas where children are known to play. But the board is considering a total ban on all 6,400 acres of park land in the city.

"By making it comprehensive we'll be covering the trails, which a lot of people have expressed interest in," Betsy Brock of the Association of Nonsmokers MN, told KARE.

"So it really just protects everybody and all the environments of the park."

The proposal would also include smokeless nicotine vaping devices, also known as e-cigarettes.

"It seems unenforceable to me, because the vapor just disappears into thin air," Mark Blackowiak of Minneapolis told KARE.

Blackowiak, who uses a vaping device, was among those who testified against the idea at the park board's meeting.

"I used to smoke. I smoked for 42 years. Personal vaporizers are the only thing that help me quit smoking. I've tried to quit many, many times and nothing else worked."

The ban would take the form of a policy rather than an ordinance. So park users would see new signage and an public awareness campaign, but there would be no tickets being written by the Minneapolis Park Police.

The proposal calls for the Parks Board to revisit the issue again in May of 2015 to see how well voluntary compliance has worked, and consider, if necessary, adopting an actual ordinance that would involve tickets.

The board also heard from Cap O'Rourke who represents Independent Vaping Retailers Association, the group of small businesses that have sprung up across the city to serve the growing demand for vaping.

"These are products people are choosing as an alternative to cigarettes, so we need to stop putting up barriers to use. We need to show that there's a difference," O'Rourke explained.

"If we treat them exactly like cigarettes, people are going to continue to use cigarettes."

But the Parks Board is fielding the same arguments state lawmakers heard about the need to regulate vaping, or e-cigs.

"You know nobody really knows what's in these products at this time. So the board's just making sure that people who are out in parks to do health activities aren't being exposed to these kinds of unknown risks."

The legislature this year acted to ban vaping inside government buildings, schools, hospitals and clinics effective July 1, 2014. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Dayton, also prohibits sales of e-cigarettes to youths under the age of 18.

The bill also mandated that the vaping devices and the nicotine oil used inside them be sold in childproof containers, because of the risk of nicotine overdoses in children.


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