Youths make case against smoking in public parks
From Chicago Tribune:
Since 2007, the Chicago Park District has banned smoking along the beachfront and in parks with playgrounds and play lots.
Encouraging healthy choices was the reason officials in 2003 banned tobacco use of any kind on Park District property in Oak Park, said Jennifer la Fleur, communications and marketing coordinator for the Park District of Oak Park.
More than 40 park districts in Illinois have outdoor smoking bans in effect, Smoke Free Illinois says on its website, smokefreeillinois.org.
For three years, a group of teenagers has directed Reality Illinois' efforts to persuade park districts in Lake County to ban tobacco use in parks.
Kevin Vargas, 17, a senior at Round Lake High School, is one of 20 to 25 active teens participating in the Lake County chapter of Reality Illinois. Last year, he helped persuade the Round Lake Area Park District to ban tobacco products from all Park District facilities except for the golf course.
In 2009, teens from Reality Illinois presented their case for a smoking ban to Vernon Hills Park District commissioners, which "jump-started" discussions and led the board to prohibit tobacco use near playgrounds, said district spokeswoman Cheryl Baron.
The students conduct surveys, compile substantive data and present it as professional advocates would to try to sway adult decision-makers, said de Nekker, the group's sponsor.
"It was something the Park District was already looking at," said Marlon Rodas, Round Lake Area Park District marketing director. "With the kids and all the research they did, I think they really brought it home."
Advocates say that prohibiting tobacco use in public parks is a good idea not only because of its positive impact on public health and the environment, but because it diverts children from picking up a bad habit through observation.
"They're a place where you want to be healthy and set an example," Vargas said.
This month, members of Reality Illinois spent a Saturday at Gurnee's Hunt Club Park gathering some 1,000 used cigarette butts, which they plan to present in April at a Gurnee park board meeting.
Gabby Nystrom, 17, a senior at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, said she was impressed by her group's survey of more than 1,300 Lake County residents, in which 85 percent of the respondents said they prefer nonsmoking parks.
As she gears up for the park district presentation, Nystrom said she is excited about the prospect of presenting an argument that will have a positive community health impact.
"We've gone through a lot of hard work," she said, "so I think it's really cool that we did that."