Howard County, Maryland has a reputation as a health-conscious place to live.
Walking and jogging trails criss-cross the county. In Columbia—one of the communities that make up the county, it’s said that those who know the routes can practically walk from one end to the other faster driving. And there are an abundance of parks— many with manmade lakes and well-used paved trails populated by a steady stream of joggers, walkers and bikers. At Centennial Park in Columbia, a red, white and blue sign proclaims that Sports Illustrated named Howard County as the number one “Sportstown” in Maryland.
Now Howard County has taken a bold step in its continued effort to “to be a model public health community and preserve its rank as Maryland’s Healthiest County.” It has banned all outdoor smoking in its parks. The ban went in effect in mid-July.
The ban makes Howard County the first jurisdiction in Maryland with a total ban on smoking and tobacco products of any kind in all the 57 county-owned parks and recreational areas.
In June 2007, Howard County required all indoor public places and workplaces to go smoke-free.
This seems to be a trend catching on nationwide. The cities of Alpharetta, Marietta, Roswell, Macon and Savannah have already enacted outdoor smoking bans.
DeKalb County may soon follow suit. The DeKalb Board of Health has proposed a comprehensive smoking ban that would prohibit smoking in public parks, restaurants and adult entertainment establishments. The proposal has been deterred by the DeKalb Board of Commissioners and is expected to be voted on in early August.
Barbara Boward of Jessup, Md., spends a considerable amount of time at Howard County parks.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Boward while walking her dog Ella at Centennial Park in Columbia. “I don’t know how you can enforce it.”
Titilola Iyun, who runs regularly through Howard County’s parks, often completing six-miles through Wilde Lake Park and Centennial Park, said outdoor smoking is one of her pet peeves. She said getting a whiff of smoke when she’s outside is annoying.
“It seems so out of place. We’re here to renew the body. That seems more anti-goodness for the body. To me it seems really foreign. I am absolutely pleased. It’s a law long overdue.”
Compliance with the Howard County ban is primarily voluntary. “However, if a smoker does not extinguish a smoking product, Park staff will remind them of the new policy and could request exiting the property if they choose to continue smoking,” according to the county’s website.
“While Howard is the healthiest county in the state, there are still areas for improvement.” notes Dr. Peter Beilenson, health officer for the county, in a statement on the county’s website. “Residents should use the parks for fitness and fun. Removing the possibility for exposure to second-hand smoke ensures that our parks are clean, safe and healthy for residents and visitors alike.”
“We want to make Howard County the healthiest community it can be,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman on the site. “We want our children to know that parks are the place to be healthy and to enjoy the environment and recreation.”