City to move carefully in considering smoking ban

VERGENNES — Vergennes Mayor Bill Benton said this week city officials would take a measured approach to a request by Vergennes Union High School 8th-graders to make the city’s pool and recreation areas and its central green off limits to smoking.
Benton said several decisions have to be made, including whether to treat the pool and recreation area differently than the city green, whether to address public smoking with laws enforceable with fines or with less strict policies, and whether to act and how quickly to do so.
“Give the kids credit for what they’ve done,” Benton said. “But an ordinance is not something you do. It has to be well thought-out … and (we want) to try to get it right the first time.”
Five members of “Vergennes Kids Against Tobacco” — Devon Kimball, Zoey Parker, Emily Stone, Carolyn Johnston and Lexi Brace — and their adviser, Jay Stetzel, presented the proposal at the city council’s April 23 meeting.
At the meeting, the students made their case, backed by research (quotes per WCAX-TV).
“If there is an event on the city green smoking bothers everyone and makes it hard to enjoy the event,” Brace said.
Johnston talked about the pool area.
“I don’t usually go to the pool, but when I do I see people outside who drop their kids off and just stand out there and smoke,” Johnston said.
Benton said the students made a good case.
“I thought that their presentation was good,” he said. “They were fairly thorough in their research.”
Benton also did some of his own homework and learned there are Vermont towns that limit smoking on municipal property, and he said he is inclined — if other aldermen agree — to look into doing so in Vergennes, but only in the areas recommended by the students.
“I think those two spots are the only two,” Benton said. “I’m more than happy to pursue it … in a reasonable way.”
Smoking is more likely to be banned in the pool and recreation area. The property was deeded to the city in 2010 by the Vergennes ID school board when that board was dissolved, per a 2009 citywide vote. Both Benton and City Manager Mel Hawley noted that smoking was effectively banned on the property prior to that 2010 transfer, as it is on all Addison Northwest Supervisory Union property.
Benton went so far as to call banning smoking around the pool and in the rest of an area heavily used by children “a no-brainer.”
“I think the idea of banning smoking down near the pool makes sense,” he said.
But Benton said the question is not so clear-cut on the park.
“The park is kind of a different issue,” he said. “It’s a public place.”
Then there is the question of whether there should be an ordinance that would be backed by police enforcement and that would subject violators to fines, or whether a policy would be a kinder, gentler approach that might prove more effective.
“You don’t get arrested, you don’t get fined,” Benton said. “It’s basically peer pressure, public pressure.”
A policy could even transition into a law if it meets with general public approval after a year or more, he said.
“You can introduce that and see if smoking stops … and then maybe you can enact an ordinance,” Benton said.
The next steps will be to see if the students want to continue the dialogue with an ad hoc committee of Hawley, Benton and Alderman Joe Klopfenstein. Benton said he has emailed Stetzel to try to arrange a meeting to discuss the process.
Benton also wants to talk further with residents and aldermen to make sure that process comes up with the right result.
“I want more input on how to proceed … from the public, from the council,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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