ROCK FALLS – A tobacco-free initiative targeting the Coloma Township Park District came to a successful conclusion Tuesday.
The district’s board of commissioners, by a vote of 4 to 0, approved an ordinance banning cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes from park district-owned property.
The ordinance is almost identical to one passed by the Dixon Park District in November 2014.
Judy Randall, a tobacco treatment specialist, led the tobacco-free efforts in Dixon and Rock Falls, which are funded by state grants. Randall works on the projects with high school National Honor Society members in each city.
Randall made one last plea before the board voted on the ordinance.
“Part of the population will fight this – I understand that, but look at it as an opportunity to set the health bar higher for our kids and grandkids,” Randall said.
Randall said behaviors and attitudes about smoking are passed along to the next generation.
“Kids don’t always listen to what we tell them, but they do mimic what we do,” Randall said.
The students put up signs throughout town, helped work on a survey gauging park-goers’ attitudes about smoking there, and followed the proposal through the government process.
Results from 279 returned surveys were heavily in favor of ridding all park facilities of tobacco products. Randall and the students presented the survey results to the board July 12.
Some of the students were at Tuesday’s meeting, anxiously awaiting the board’s vote with Randall and a few parents. The project was launched this spring, beginning with an exercise in awareness – the students spent a Sunday afternoon picking up cigarette butts in the city’s parks.
“When we walked around the park, there were cigarettes everywhere, and it made me realize how unsafe it is for kids,” said Bailey Bickett, who will be a senior this year at Rock Falls High.
The students were happy to find that the board needed only a few minutes to put the ordinance in place for the park district.
“I’m happy – this makes me feel better to know kids won’t have to inhale secondhand smoke,” senior Abbie Gray said.
Bickett said she can’t wait to see how the ordinance improves the parks experience. She found the students’ experience with local government inspirational.
“This gives me hope for the future because now we know young people are listened to and they can make changes,” Bickett said.
Commissioner Don Stindt said he sees firsthand the devastating health repercussions of smoking.
“I do volunteer work in the CGH oncology department, and there is a high rate of smoking-related illness in the area,” Stindt said.
Rachel Hunt of Rock Falls said she became involved in the project after seeing how well the ordinance has worked in Dixon.
“I volunteer for the Sauk Valley Hockey Club in Dixon, and we have asthmatic kids that play at the rink,” Hunt said. “Once the program came in, the results were so amazing there, I knew it really does make a difference.”
Parks Director Mike Sterba said the ordinance is effective immediately. The park district already had no-smoking signs at the baseball diamonds and other areas with a heavy concentration of children. Additional signs will be ordered and put up in other areas.
The Coloma Township Park District Board of Commissioners next meets at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at the park district office at 508 E. 11th St. in Rock Falls.