Village bans smoking in its parks

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Theresa Zubretsky, project coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, displays signs to the village board similar to ones that will shortly be posted in Altamont’s parks.

ALTAMONT — “A kid could catch on fire!” Erin Burby told the village board Tuesday night.

The third-grader stood at the microphone to read a speech she’d composed as a class assignment at Altamont Elementary School. This catching on fire could happen if smokers left behind lighters and matches in village parks where kids play, Erin said.

“Plus,” she went on, “the smoker could leave the cigarettes on the ground in the park and animals and sometimes kids could eat them!”

The board unanimously passed a resolution to make all of the village parks — Angel Park, Benjamin M. Crupe Bozenkill Park, Orsini Park, and Shilling Park — and all other village-maintained parkland tobacco free.

Signs will go up soon, said Mayor James Gaughan.

Theresa Zubretsky, project coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, said Altamont is the 18th municipality in the three counties — Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady — served by the coalition to make its parks tobacco free. “We worked diligently with the cities of Schenectady, Troy, and Albany to get this done,” Zubretsky told The Enterprise.

She also contacted the village several months ago, Gaughan told The Enterprise. He talked to the trustees who were supportive of the idea.

The Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition is one of 23 funded entirely by the state’s Department of Health, said Zubretsky. The local coalition, which employs fewer than four full-time people, she said, has three goals: to reduce youth smoking, to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, and to reduce smoking in general.

In addition to working with municipalities, the coalition also “works with employers to make their grounds tobacco-free,” said Zubretsky. Recently, for example, the coalition worked with Planned Parenthood-Mohawk Hudson not just to make the grounds tobacco-free but to “improve intervention with clients,” she said.

Student involvement

Coincidentally, Gaughan said, when he went to Altamont Elementary School to vote on the budget, he ran into Annemarie Farrell who teaches third grade and was looking for a relevant topic her students could write speeches about. “She said the kids were interested in a pedestrian bridge to the school; that failed. I told her that’s been dead in the water.”  He recommended the tobacco-free parks as a topic instead.

Each of the student essays began with the same topic sentence: “Our parks in Altamont should be tobacco-free play zones.”


The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
“Your words have made a difference,” Annemarie Farrell, left, a third-grade teacher at Altamont Elementary School tells her students Tuesday evening as they stand outside Village Hall.

Two students were randomly selected, the mayor said, to read their essays before the village board prior to the vote. The meeting hall was filled with “and a fan club,” he said.

“People should not get sick,” third-grader Kyle Efaw told the board. “If people are smoking in a park around kids, the kid could breathe in second-hand smoke and get sick. Seeing adult or older kids smoke might make other kids want to smoke and it is bad for you. Sixty percent of kids who smoke started by the age of 14 years old.”

Zubretsky said the Altamont students made “three excellent points” that the coalition stresses. Banning smoking in parks eliminates second-hand smoke, which is a danger for all; tobacco litter can be hazardous to wildlife and pets; and not smoking in the park is friendlier to the environment since most cigarette butts are not biodegradable.

Zubretsky is providing everyone in Farrell’s class with T-shirts from the coalition, the mayor said.

The mayor’s partner, Keith Lee, a Master Gardener who helps maintain gardens in village parks, has seen a marked decrease in cigarette butts since he started his parks work in 2005, Gaughan said. “He does not see the proliferation of cigarette butts he used to,” said Gaughan, noting that butts were most frequent in the village-maintained garden outside of the post office.

Lee told The Enterprise he plans to ask the postmaster if he’d like a sign for the garden outside of the post office saying, “I am not an ashtray.”


“We chose not to have a fine or for this to be a police matter,” Gaughan said. “We’re going with the hope the human dynamic will begin to change behavior.”

“Altamont chose to do this through resolution,” said Zubretsky. “Others have done local laws. With a law can come a consequence.” For example, a fine can be levied.

“The bottom line is, the kind of changes we want to promote don’t come from tickets or fines,” she said. “It comes from community awareness.”

She likened it to “voluntary compliance with pooper scoopers.” Years ago, Zubretsky said, dog feces were often left on city sidewalks. Now, with community pressure, dog owners routinely carry bags to pick up their pets’ excrement.

Zubretsky displayed for the village board the two types of signs that will shortly be posted in Altamont’s parks.

One has a picture of a girl on a swing and says, “Young lungs at play. This is a tobacco-free park.” The other has black lettering against a blue sky and says, “For the health of our community, this is a tobacco-free park.”

With the signs posted, Zubretsky said, “If I’m a parent, and I see someone smoking in the park, I can point to the sign and tell them it’s not allowed.” She described this as “self-enforcement.”

“It empowers all of the park users,” she said. “That will sustain the change.”


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