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City may tell smokers to butt out

The Medford Parks and Recreation Commission is recommending an ordinance to the City Council that bans smoking in all of its parks.

The commission passed a regulation in November that prohibits smoking and tobacco products on all properties managed by the Parks and Recreation Department, but until that rule becomes an ordinance and is enforced by Medford police, "it doesn't have much teeth," said department Director Brian Sjothun.

A study session to discuss the proposed ordinance is set for noon today in the Medford Room in City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St. Changes to the pawn shop code and restrictions on dangerous dog breeds also will be addressed in the session.

"Jackson County has a higher percentage of people that smoke than other areas of Oregon," Sjothun said. "From our perspective, this is about trying to reduce the amount of litter and having clean and healthy facilities for people to go to."

The current regulation makes one exception, for a small, designated area in the northeast section of the parking lot at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

"There were a couple commission members that felt there should be a designated area in that park because of the amount of adult softball that is played there," Sjothun said, adding that his recommendation to the council is that all areas be smoke- and tobacco-free.

If the ordinance is approved, violators would face a fine, which has yet to be determined. Signs also will be posted in all the parks.

"I feel like there should be a law against distance from kids, but there aren't any kids around," said Josh Sampsell, 18, who was smoking and playing basketball with his friends in Fichtner-Mainwaring Park Tuesday.

Sampsell frequents Fichtner at least once a week and Lewis Park daily. He said an ordinance, if passed, probably wouldn't stop him from lighting up in the park. It would just make him more cautious.

"I'll probably still smoke here, just not when police are around," he said.

Other people smoking at Fichtner on Tuesday called the proposed ordinance "stupid" but said that they would respect it, if passed, and look for somewhere else to hang out.

As of Jan. 2, 901 communities nationwide, including 15 in Oregon, and several states have made their park facilities smoke- and tobacco-free, Sjothun said.

"We are just following suit with what's being done around the United States," he said.

Nearby cities such as Ashland, Roseburg and Redding, Calif., already have adopted ordinances banning the smoking of any substance in parks and outdoor facilities.

"Parks are supposed to be used for healthy pursuits, not unhealthy pursuits," said Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson. "We also had a problem with people not disposing of their cigarette butts appropriately."

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is holding four public hearings this month for those wishing to comment on a proposed rule change that would limit smoking in Oregon state parks to personal vehicles, tents, RVs and campsites in developed camping areas. If passed, new rules would be enforced in January 2015.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Josh Sampsell, 18, of Medford, smokes a cigarette at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park Tuesday. He says an ordinance banning tobacco in city parks would make him more cautious about lighting up.