JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A new ordinance is now in effect in Johnson City banning smoking and vaping at city-owned parks, playgrounds and recreation areas accessible by the public.
The decision was passed unanimously by the Johnson City Commission on Thursday.
A law recently signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gives local governments the ability to prohibit the use of tobacco and vape products on public property.
Johnson City commissioners decided to take action.
“I believe it’s the best decision we could make for our future. Our future consists of our youth here in our community,” said Commissioner Aaron Murphy.
Johnson City police are now authorized to issue a citation of up to $50 to those caught in the act.
Commissioners say they want to protect children from exposure to second-hand smoke while playing on city property.
“We have to understand that children are still developing. They haven’t made the choice to participate in those activities via smoking and vaping. Let’s not force that on them in these public spaces,” said Murphy.
According to Johnson City city attorney Sunny Sandos, a no-smoking policy was already in place for city parks and playgrounds. Now, it has been amended to include city “greenways” that are used as parks.
That means King Commons and Founders Park are now included in the no-smoking ban.
“These two greenspaces are part of the flood mitigation plan of the city and not under the purview of the Parks and Recreation Department. As such, the new law passed by the State allows local governments to pass an ordinance to ban smoking and vaping on greenways. This is one key component of the new ordinance is that it allowed for the current ban to be expanded into these two greenways that are utilized by our citizens as parks,” Sandos told News Channel 11.
Sandos emphasized that vaping will now be prohibited in all city parks, as well as smoking.
“I would ban it everywhere frankly,” said park-goer Kathryn Kraus. “I’ve lost four people to smoking, that’s not a pleasant death either.”
Some Johnson City residents are split on if the new rule is needed.
“Maybe in playgrounds, a ban on smoking makes sense. But as wide open as Founders Park is, I don’t think it really is necessary,” said George Kraus at the park.
It is also a matter of cleanliness in city parks that could be improved by the ban.
“Especially the litter of cigarette butts everywhere. That’s not good for the environment either,” said Kathryn Kraus.
So, should citizens report someone smoking in one of these now prohibited areas?
“It is up to each individual to determine if they observe an activity that potentially requires police intervention. There are no requirements to report violations in the city nor the state of Tennessee,” said Sandos.
The city is planning for new signage to be posted to reflect the new ordinance.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Murphy. “We are trying to build the best community we can build. Making decisions like this is a big part of that.”