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Statement in Support of Smoke-free Forest Preserves
Remarks of Joel J. Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer, Respiratory Health Association

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Special to
by Respiratory Health Association

Remarks of Joel J. Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer,

Respiratory Health Association

Statement in Support of Smoke-free Forest Preserves

May 19, 2015

Good morning Chairman Suffredin and members of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Board of Commissioners. My name is Joel Africk. I am President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association. Our organization has been a public health leader in metropolitan Chicago since 1906.

I am here to urge you to adopt a smoke-free policy for Cook County Forest Preserve and more than 69,000 acres of public lands under your stewardship. Currently, Cook County Forest Preserve restricts smoking only in (1) indoor structures, which are covered by state law, as well as semi-enclosed structures; (2) some outdoor areas at Brookfield Zoo; and (3) on the grounds of Chicago Botanic Gardens, which is 100% smoke-free.

A comprehensive smoke-free Forest Preserve policy would broaden the protection currently in place at the Botanic Gardens to the entire Cook County Forest Preserve. Such a policy would protect against the dangers of secondhand smoke for the people who make 40 million visits to the Cook County Forest Preserve each year, and it is consistent with your mission to preserve lands in a natural state for the education, pleasure and recreation of the public. We are supported in this effort by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and the Active Transportation Alliance, among others.

This is an opportunity for Cook County to join the Chicago Park District and more than 900 other communities that model healthy behavior by making their public open spaces smoke-free. Like Chicago, cities such as New York, Boston and Atlanta have all adopted smoke-free parks policies and they have enjoyed a smooth transition to the healthier new environment, as the visitors comply with the new policy.

As detailed in the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and there is no risk-free duration of exposure to secondhand smoke. A smoke-free forest preserve policy would ensure that all staff and visitors would be protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

A smoke-free forest preserve policy also models healthy behavior, as it helps people who want to quit smoking succeed in their quit efforts. Such a policy is also effective in changing social norms around acceptable places for tobacco use.

In addition, a smoke-free forest preserve policy would reduce fire risk from reckless disposal of smoking materials and cigarette litter, which requires costly cleanup and contains chemicals that are harmful to wildlife.

It is important to understand this policy change is not intended to increase the enforcement burden or provide a new revenue source. Based on the experience in many other jurisdictions, smoke-free policies such as this are largely self-enforcing. Other major park districts around the country with smoke-free policies have not experienced any significant enforcement issues. For example, New York City had a seemingly smooth transition to smoke-free parks. The New York City Park District made concerted outreach to partners and those who use parks – when patrons would reserve ball fields, sign up for programs, apply for permits etc. In addition to signage, they had great success distributing business cards to guests just after the policy went into effect explaining the new rule. This was a non-controversial way to educate patrons on the new policy. These cards have been replicated by many places across the country. The research shows that once people are made aware of a smoke-free policy, they remain largely compliant.

Finally, we note this policy change would finally make Brookfield Zoo 100% smoke-free, which would be a great benefit to the children and animals alike. Lincoln Park Zoo is already 100% smoke-free, as are more than 70 zoos in other municipalities plus two states and the District of Columbia. It is time for Brookfield Zoo to join that growing list.

We look forward to working with you on this important effort to enhance the Cook County Forest Preserves as places for modeling healthy behavior.

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