Guilderland bans smoking, tobacco in its parks

— Photo by Lindsay Fox at

Vaping: Kids in high school are now more likely to smoke e-cigarettes than traditional cigs, according to the state’s health department.

GUILDERLAND — The town board voted unanimously this week to ban smoking and tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in its parks.

Previously, the town had a “hodgepodge” of regulations banning smoking in certain areas of the park, said Supervisor Peter Barber at a public hearing Tuesday night, but had decided to make the ban “absolute” so that people using the town’s public spaces can do so without worrying about their health.

“This follows what I think is a national trend to be more concerned about the negative side effects of secondhand smoking,” Barber said.

Theresa Zubretsky of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities said at the public hearing that some area municipalities had started out with limited policies, like those that Guilderland had in place, but had since implemented total bans for the sake of clarity. She offered a hypothetical example, asking if the ban were just on the playing fields. “What about the sidelines?” she said.

She talked about the toxicity of tobacco-related litter, saying that cigarette butts can be ingested by children or animals, and that spit tobacco — from smokeless tobacco — can be toxic to plants and hard to clean up. She also said that some aerosol emissions from e-cigarettes contain human carcinogens including formaldehyde and benzene.

Zubretsky provided statistics from the New York State Department of Health about the use of tobacco products by young people in the state, saying that the percentage of middle- and high-school students who smoke is, at 4.3 percent, lower than in any other state in the United States. But she said that young people in the state use other tobacco products — including cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco, and hookahs — more than twice as much as traditional cigarettes: 10.6 percent. Further, she said that almost five times as many young people, 20.6 percent, use electronic products such as cigarettes, and that the use of electronic tobacco products had doubled among high-school-age youth in New York State between 2014 and 2016, making Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS, the most commonly used tobacco product.

She told The Enterprise on Wednesday that ENDS is an umbrella term that covers “the wide variety of electronic products on the market now and those that may pop up at any moment.” It includes, she said, e-cigarettes, which are also called cig-a-likes, vape pens, mods, and atomizers. Some ENDS products require the use of an e-liquid solution, which is often candy- or fruit-flavored; others are disposable, some are rechargeable, and most contain nicotine, she said.

Zubretsky said at the meeting, of young people, that “the less they see smoking, the less they see tobacco products, the less likely they are to smoke.”

Her organization would be willing, Zubretsky told the board, to provide the additional signs needed for the park, at no cost to the town.

Guilderland resident Sharon Masciocco asked if it was necessary to add “layer upon layer” of new laws to the books, and suggested that the town continue to rely on “common courtesy.”

Pamela Kuczenski, another Guilderland resident, asked why the town-owned golf course was exempt from the ban.

Barber said that there had been some discussion about the golf course, but that it would be exempt at present, because it is town-owned but not a park and it is “typically it’s not a place where you’re going to find families and children.” He said that the decision to exempt it was a matter of “discretion.”

The local law names the parks included in the ban as Fred D. Abele Park, DiCaprio Park, Fort Hunter Park, Roger Keenholts Park, McKownville Park, Nott Road Park and Dog Park, Tawasentha Park and Winter Recreation Area, Volunteer Firefighters Memorial Park, and “other lands designated as a park by the Town Board.”

The new law in Guilderland sets up fines — $50 for the first violation, and not less than $200 or more than $500 for subsequent violations — but Barber said Wednesday in an email, “I highly doubt if fines would ever be imposed. The Town Code has numerous provisions for fines, and except for zoning enforcement matters, I’m not aware of any issuance of fines. In addition, a fine can only be imposed by Town Court.”

He added that “nearly all park patrons comply with posted laws and, where there are violations, a reminder by Park employees has worked.”

The village of Altamont — which is contained within the town of Guilderland — unanimously passed a resolution a year ago to make all of its parks tobacco-free. Then-Mayor James Gaughan told The Enterprise at the time that the village had chosen not to have a fine or to involve the police in enforcement.

“We’re going with the hope the human dynamic will begin to change behavior,” Gaughan said.

Albany County included fines in its ban on cigarettes and tobacco products in all county-owned parks and recreation areas, passed this May. The fine schedule is the same as that in the Guilderland law.

The vote by the Guilderland Town Board, following long discussion, was unanimous. Councilman Lee Carman said he agreed with some of the points that town residents made, but was in favor of the law because it prohibited behavior that could harm someone else. Councilman Paul Pastore said he had tried to think about whether the law might be too restrictive and had considered the use of chewing tobacco at places like Keenholts Park, but had been convinced by hearing that the residue from chewed tobacco could be harmful to plants and to the parks themselves.

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.