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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 5, 2009

Board mulls smoking ban in village parks

By Philippa Stasiuk

VOORHEESVILLE — Smoking may soon be banned in village parks, and cigarette ads in Voorheesville stores may be made less visible to kids.

The Voorheesville Village Board will be voting next month on these two initiatives after hearing a presentation from the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition at the January meeting last Tuesday. 

Every day in America, 4,000 children start smoking, another 2,000 become daily smokers, and 1,200 people die from cigarette-related illnesses, according to the American Cancer Society.

Jeanie Orr, a project coordinator from the Troy-based not-for-profit coalition, spoke about two resolutions that the village could implement to reduce tobacco use. One resolution would make the parks in Voorheesville smoke-free and the other would encourage convenience stores in the village to alter their cigarette advertising so that it is less visible to children.

Orr’s presentation at the meeting highlighted the dangers of second-hand smoke, which she explained could be just as dangerous outside as it is indoors. She also said that being upwind from a smoker outdoors does not eliminate the cigarette’s chemicals from the air.

Over 40 municipalities in New York State have already adopted resolutions to make parks smoke-free, including the towns of Niskayuna, Rotterdam, and Scotia in Schenectady County.

Orr notified the Voorheesville board that, should it choose to adopt a smoke-free park resolution, it can request park signs that say “Young Lungs at Play” with an image of a pigtailed girl swinging and a cigarette with a line through it. The coalition is offering the signs free through a grant from the state’s Department of Health Tobacco Control Program.

Orr also explained that “most boards have chosen to pass resolutions to say there is no smoking, but not enforced them with penalties because we’re finding that the signs themselves are self-enforcing.”

The second initiative that Orr presented was a resolution that urges retailers to reduce, rearrange, or eliminate tobacco advertising from areas of stores likely to be seen by children, especially near candy displays and countertops. Orr admitted that this second initiative is more challenging because retailers often have contracts with tobacco companies to display a certain amount of advertising. In New York State, the tobacco industry spends around $516 million a year on marketing, according to the 2005 United States Federal Trade Commission Report.

“That’s the trouble,” Orr said. “The stores receive money for advertising. But they might be able to do something. What we’re really asking them to do is change corporate policy and not take money from tobacco companies. Some do. Some say they agree with you. There’s also certain signage that they don’t get paid for.  They could eliminate that.”

Tom Mailey, a spokesperson for Stewart’s Shops, which is based in Saratoga, said that his company is “very conscious of tobacco signage in our shops because we’re aware how families use us.”

New Scotland has three Stewart’s shops, one of them in Voorheesville.

 “It’s put us to a point where we have to pay a financial price with cigarette companies because we don’t get the discounts from tobacco companies because we wouldn’t do the number of signs that they wanted,” said Mailey. “We may have a couple of deals with cigarette companies but they don’t involve signage. For the most part it’s on the racks.”

According to Orr, the governor’s budget proposal for 2009 has cut funding for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition by only around 6 to 8 percent because of the long-term role the organization plays in saving the state money. 

“For every dollar spent on tobacco control efforts, you get three dollars back in savings in health-care expenditures,” she said. “Tobacco is the number-one preventable cause of disease, not just lung cancer but heart disease. I think the state realizes that, in the long term, cuts mean we’d have to spend more money.

Mayor Robert Conway said of the two suggested resolutions, “We’re going to follow up on both. We don’t want to overwhelm the parkscape with signs but, from what she showed us, I thought it was totally appropriate to add that signage.” 

With regards to tobacco-related signs in convenience stores, Conway said, in comparison to other areas, he thought Voorheesville was “pretty fortunate.” 

“Now I have heightened awareness after the meeting and I looked up three stores in the area — Stewart’s, Mobil, and Hannaford. I don’t think it’s horrible. It didn’t strike me as being over the top but I think we’ll have conversations with those shops. I don’t see it as a severe problem but we want to let the establishments know our concerns, but not necessarily beat them over the head with it.”

Mayor Conway said Trustee John Stevens would present a resolution at the February meeting. 

Other business

In other business, the village board:

— Heard from Conway that the board offers its condolences to the family of Luke Micheli. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said Conway; 

— Approved a final payment of $7,000 to CSX Railroad for the completion of the sidewalk near the Voorheesville Avenue train tracks, next to the Verizon utility building and opposite the diner;

—Heard from Trustee Richard Berger that the village will be speaking to parking officer Frank Pierrot about adding to his duties a once-a-month village court appearance. Pierrot would represent the village in parking- related court cases. In the pre-meeting, Conway suggested that the village try this arrangement for a year with the hopes of improving payment of tickets issued by Pierrot;

— Heard from Trustee Stevens who congratulated Mayor Conway on being voted President of the Mohawk Hudson Association of Village Officials, which is a two-year term; and

— Heard from Conway that he would attend a Federal Emergency Management Agency workshop on Feb. 3 to review Voorheesville’s needs connected to the December ice storm. According to Terrence Ryan, director of Albany County Emergency Management, all municipalities were invited to this meeting so that FEMA could give an overview on both its reimbursement program and eligibility requirements for costs that municipalities may have paid for storm-related damages.

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