By Karen Zautyk
In February 2008, the Town of Kearny, described by one elected official as being “on the cutting edge” of the issue, prohibited smoking — or the carrying of any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe “or other similar device” — within the boundaries of 11 municipally owned playgrounds.
That ordinance read:
“WHEREAS the smoking of tobacco is detrimental to the public health and welfare, it has been determined that the curbing of smoking where the public will gather will assist in the decrease of smoking and its impact on the public, which is beneficial to public health and welfare, it is … the purpose of this ordinance to prohibit smoking from playgrounds … where the presence of children is likely to occur.”
These included: Belgrove Drive Playground, Bell, Columbia/Coogan Manor, Dowd, Miglin, Pettigrew, Tappan and Windsor/Grove Playgrounds, as well as Riverbank Park Playground and the playground at Gunnell Oval.
In May 2008, that ordinance was amended to cover both “children’s and adults’ play activities” and expanded to include Fairlawn Manor Park and Coogan Playground, plus Veteran’s Memorial Park on Belgrove Drive, Corbett Hockey Field and Futsol Soccer Field at the Riverbank Park Marina, along with Harvey Field and the entire Gunnell Oval Sports Complex (not just its playground).
Still, a handful of other parks, deemed “passive” sites, were excluded. Smokers [in the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted your correspondent is one] still had access to certain bucolic swaths where they might have a puff in peace.
That is expected to change next week.
An amended ordinance, introduced March 12 and to be voted on following a March 26 public hearing, would broaden the the restrictions to cover all town-owned parkland in Kearny.
Added to the No Smoking zones would be: Town Hall Park, Arlington Depot Park (a/k/a Garafola Park), Military Park on Kearny Ave. at Quincy, the entire stretch of Riverbank Park, from Bergen Ave. northward toward the Belleville Pike, and a place we did not even know was a Park, passive or aggressive: Stewart Park, which is that steep tree-and- shrub-covered berm dividing Passaic Ave. from the perilous curve on N. Midland Ave. However, the smoking prohibition would “not apply to: parking areas serving those facilities or the public sidewalks immediately adjoining the public park.”
The exemption of the sidewalks, Mayor Alberto Santos explained, is a jurisdictional one. “State law does not allow us to ban smoking on the streets,” he said.
This leads to some interesting scenarios. At little triangular Military Park, for instance, you can gaze at the cannons and monuments — while smoking — if you remain on the Kearny Ave. or Beech St. sidewalks. But set one foot on the interior pathway that divides the plot, and you’re a law-breaker.
Same thing with Riverbank Park, which has few sidewalks but several parking areas. You can light up on the blacktop, but don’t step up an inch to stand on the grass.
Penalties for illegal smokers or toters of lit tobacco products range from a mere warning for a first offense to maximum fines of $100 to $500, depending on the number of violations the smoker has accrued.
Although the 2008 ordinance noted that the Kearny Police and Kearny Health Department were charged with the “diligent enforcement” of the rules, Santos said he expects that much “will be self-enforcement … people telling others not to light up.”
“Will violators be subject to a fine?” he asked rhetorically. “Yes.” “
Will a cop show up in a police car? No.”
Asked about the reasoning behind prohibiting smoking in Riverbank Park, which is bordered by a heavily travelled avenue full of emissions-belching motor vehicles, Santos said, “Smoking is a known carcinogen, as is second-hand smoke. Emissions from traffic tend to be particulate matter, minuscule particulates. Tobacco smoke has chemicals in it that causes cancer.”
The broader smoking ban is also intended to discourage young people who frequent the parks from picking up the habit, the mayor said. “This is a national health priority,” he noted.
And what about the largest park in town, West Hudson? Since that’s county property, the Kearny rules do not apply.
However, Santos said, “the county is working on its own ordinance.”
county is working on its own