Youths voice opposition to tobacco in city parks
Several youths in Havre say they're tired of seeing cigarette butts and litter from chewing tobacco on the ground at their city parks. The children have joined forces to try and create cleaner, safer parks in Havre.
Nearly 80 youths from the Hi-Line, participating in the 15th annual HELP camp at MSU-Northern, attended a meeting with the Havre City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee on Monday, encouraging council members to pass a resolution banning tobacco
products in city parks.
"More than 55,000 people died last year alone from secondhand smoke," members of the group told the Parks and Rec Committee. "Please help us keep the air in our parks clean."
The youths worked with the HELP Committee and the Boys & Girls of the Hi-Line to draft a resolution prohibiting tobacco use in city parks. A resolution is a "formal expression" agreed on by the City Council - it is not law.
"Passing a resolution prohibiting tobacco products in city parks is a good way for a community to make a statement about they feel about secondhand smoke," Karen Klahn, health education specialist with the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program in Helena, said Wednesday. "People who choose to follow the resolution become good role models for our kids. We want the youth to be able to emulate the actions of their elders. We certainly don't want our kids to start smoking."
If council members vote to pass the resolution, the final step of the plan is to post small signs in all city parks in Havre, declaring the areas "tobacco-free."
"These kids want to affect positive change in Havre," Jay Schuschke, prevention specialist with the Boys & Girls of the Hi-Line, said at Monday's meeting. "This effort has been entirely youth-led."
LuAnn McLain, regional prevention specialist with the Boys & Girls Club, said a lot of work has gone into creating the "Havre Tobacco-Free Parks Project."
"The kids have been talking about this for more than a year," McLain said Wednesday. "It's been the kids that have been pushing for this. They worked hard to come up with their own plan and their own presentations to present to the council."
McLain said in addition to the dangers of secondhand smoke and the unsightly litter from tobacco products, the kids are also concerned that the use of tobacco in the presence of children "demonstrates an unsafe and unhealthy lifestyle choice" that children might mimic.
"They feel that if they can get the message out that most people lead healthy lifestyles and make healthy choices, and that's supported in our community, then it's less likely the younger kids will choose to use tobacco," she said. "This project says a lot about our youth in Havre."
This youth-led effort is not the first in Montana. Two years ago a group of middle school students in Livingston involved in the Teens in Partnership leadership youth group led a similar movement in their town to prohibit tobacco in their city parks. The students from Sleeping Giant Middle School formed a tobacco-free park resolution and took their case to the city government in Livingston.
"It was wholeheartedly accepted and welcomed by city officials," Clare Lemke, program coordinator for the Park County Tobacco Youth Prevention Program, said Wednesday. "It was implemented without any problems. The community has been very supportive."
The Livingston resolution prohibits tobacco use in play areas - including all playing fields, the swing set area and the skateboard park - but does not apply to the entire park. Lemke said no one enforces the tobacco-free policy, but the community still follows the "rules."
"The resolution itself makes a very strong statement," she said. "The signage is really the only enforcement we've needed. People in the community have made a choice to do the right thing and protect our kids."
Initially, the Livingston resolution was tested in one city park. After it proved effective there, the resolution was applied to all city parks.
"It really made a big difference in the play areas at the city parks," Lemke said. "In fact, the resolution was so effective, the Park County Commission implemented the tobacco-free policy in the play areas of county parks as well."
Lemke said Livingston was the first city in the state to adopt a tobacco-free resolution for city parks. But she's hopeful other cities, including Havre, can follow suit.
"We kind of broke ground on this," she said. "But it's a very doable plan if the community supports it. We encourage other cities to follow in the footsteps of Livingston's youth. The kids can really make a difference."
The "Havre Tobacco-Free Parks Project" resolution will be discussed and voted on by the City Council at its meeting on Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. at City Hall.