Devils Lake Park Board: Tobacco use policy to be drawn up

The Devils Lake Park Board is one step closer to solidifying guidelines for the use of tobacco products at its outdoor facilities.

By Harry Lipsiea, Devils Lake Journal Reporter

The Devils Lake Park Board is one step closer to solidifying guidelines for the use of tobacco products at its outdoor facilities.

At Monday’s regularly-scheduled meeting, the board voted unanimously to have director Terry Wallace write up a proposed policy and present it to the board for its approval.

Last month, Liz Bonney, Ramsey County Tobacco Prevention Coordinator with Lake Region District Health, brought the idea of a policy to limit areas in which tobacco products could be used at city parks.

The board looked at models currently placed in communities throughout the state of North Dakota. Ultimately, one seemed to jump out to board members as a policy that could fit well in Devils Lake.

“I like what Williston has done with its policy,” board member Kale Stromme stated. “It’s pretty cut and dry specifically when it talks about banning cigarettes in any area where youth are playing.”

The board agreed noting that the policy should include a ban of tobacco products near playground equipment. The board also felt that at baseball and softball diamonds, tobacco will be off limits during youth activities.

The only concern about such a policy was how to enforce the rules.

“There is no way to police the use of tobacco products at the park 100 percent of the time,” Bonney stated.

She pointed out that the policy would inform the public of rules in place. Bonney feels signage, to potentially be provided by Lake Region District Health, would be extremely beneficial.

“I don’t expect anyone to be out there at all times and stop what they are doing if they see someone smoking. That’s not realistic,” Bonney added. “This is a self-policing policy. I think the public will be compliant once they know there are guidelines in place.”

The board then voted for Wallace to form a policy similar to the one in Williston. It is expected to be presented for board approval at a future meeting.

In other business, the park board looked over an initial agreement proposal for the Creel Bay Golf Course. The golf course committee is set meet to go over items on a one-on-one basis later this week.

Also, the newly-added viewing area at the Mike Dosch Memorial Pool has been a hit, manager David Kerlin told the board.

“We have a gotten a lot of positive comments on it,” he stated.

Jim Whitehead: The evidence is in: Ban tobacco use in GF parks

By Jim Whitehead

GRAND FORKS—It seems that the proposed Park Board tobacco policy has some folks blowing more than smoke.
Among the assertions are the following:
▇ The policy is not based on good science.
▇ Youth are not influenced by the behavior of others.
▇ It will be unpopular in Grand Forks.
▇ It is paternalistic and a misuse of power.
▇ Golf and softball are adult activities and should be exempt from a chewing tobacco ban.
Let’s start by stating what is well known: First, tobacco products are harmful when used as intended; second, nicotine is highly addictive; third, most tobacco users start before the age of 18; and fourth, North Dakota has a major problem with youth smoking and chewing tobacco use.
Thus, it behooves local public health professionals and civic leaders to take reasonable action to address the issue—which, of course, begs the question of what is “reasonable.”
Well, is it reasonable to assume that the Grand Forks Park District should be interested in regulating unhealthy behaviors? Given that the district’s mission is “to provide the best parks, programs, facilities, forestry services and other services possible to promote a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle for all citizens of Grand Forks,” I would submit that it is quite reasonable to adopt policies that promote fidelity to its mission.
Is the proposed policy based on good science? Note that the risks of secondhand smoke have not been advocated as the basis for the proposed policy. In contrast, the rationale is far more about social norm issues such as the effects of role modeling and peer influence.
Of course, not all scientists agree, and I could certainly cherry-pick research papers that challenge their effects; but the weight of evidence seems to have impressed the scientists and public health professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and local public health departments.
Moreover, the science has been deemed good enough to underpin similar policies that have already been adopted by other local agencies and institutions that claim health-related missions, including Altru, UND and Grand Forks schools.
This is not “paternalism” in action. It is an objective and evidence-based attempt to address a serious public health concern.
The “good science” issue also is pertinent to the notion that the proposed policy “will be unpopular.” Those who have made that criticism may not be aware of the solid research design behind the two recent studies conducted on Grand Forks residents and on softball-team managers and golf-course users. The data shows that 78 percent of residents support the comprehensive tobacco-free policy (90 percent of frequent park users), and 84 percent of softball and golf participants are in favor. This is hardly an unpopular policy.
Moreover, when asked whether the proposed policy would “discourage youth from starting to use tobacco products, promote positive role-modeling” or “create an environment that promotes a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle,” well over 90 percent of respondents agreed.
Again, these data (obtained using good scientific methodology) overwhelmingly refute the notion that the policy will be “unpopular.”
Will this policy, if adopted, cause some people to bypass the city for destinations further south? Given that Manitoba intends to fine smokers $300 if they are caught puffing in provincial parks, beaches or playgrounds, it could be that hardened tobacco-using golfers might pass us by. But I doubt that will constitute enough of a revenue loss to Grand Forks to outweigh the health and health care cost-savings that will accrue from what is demonstrably a popular and science-based policy.
Thus, I hope that the Park District board will ignore these “smoke screens” and adopt the proposed tobacco policy at its meeting on Monday (May 4).
But I also hope that the board will recognize that golf and softball are not exclusively the domain of adults, and consequently, will be amenable to revisiting the chewing tobacco exemption sometime in the near future.
Given the alarming data on all forms of tobacco use by North Dakota’s youth, plus the near-overwhelming support for an all-inclusive comprehensive policy by Grand Forks’ residents and the city’s golfers and softball-team managers, I suggest that this is not an issue that can be “chewed over” and delayed too much longer.

Bill Palmiscno: Tobacco limits in parks will make Grand Forks a better place

By Bill Palmiscno
GRAND FORKS—At the April 6 meeting of the Grand Forks Park Board, the Park Board commissioners passed the first reading of the Park District Tobacco Usage Policy.
It reads as follows:
“No person shall use, chew, smoke, inhale e-cigarettes, or otherwise engage in the usage of tobacco or tobacco products within or on any playground, fitness center, arena, pool, Park District parks, baseball diamonds and outdoor tennis courts. Except for chewing tobacco products at Lincoln Golf Course, King Walk Golf Course and Ulland Park, all tobacco products and all tobacco usage is banned on all property owned, leased or managed by the Park District.”
The decision to implement the Tobacco Usage Ban Policy was not taken lightly. For the past two years, multiple concerned groups, including the Grand Forks Public Health Department, have been requesting a tobacco-free parks ordinance. The issue has been carefully reviewed and analyzed by the Park Board for years.
Here are three major factors that lead to the passing of the first reading of the Park District Tobacco Usage Policy.
▇ Grand Forks City Council ruling on Ordinance 4393
On Dec. 3, 2012, the city of Grand Forks passed the Smoke Free Workplace Ordinance 4393; the ordinance went into effect a few days later. This Grand Forks ordinance and the state of North Dakota’s ruling prohibits smoking on golf courses and softball fields.
Ordinance 4393 also includes “public places,” which made reference to public parks but not playgrounds.
▇ Overwhelming community support for tobacco-free parks
In April 2014, the Park Board was presented with a third-party, scientific survey showing community attitudes and perceptions towards a Comprehensive Tobacco-Free Parks Policy. Key findings can be found in the appendix or online at, the website of the Grand Forks Tobacco Free Coalition.
▇ Commitment to being community leaders in health and wellness
The mission of the Grand Forks Park District is to provide the best parks, programs, facilities, forestry services and other services possible to promote a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle for all citizens of Grand Forks. The Park Board is committed to keeping our mission at the heart of every decision made.
The goal of implementing the Tobacco Usage Policy is to prevent our children from being exposed to addictive behavior in public areas where families frequent, such as parks, playgrounds and youth fields. The Park Board does not want to restrict the rights of adults, hence the decision to allow chewing tobacco products in our adult-focused activity areas such as Lincoln Golf Course, King’s Walk Golf Course and Ulland Park.
We truly believe the decision to implement the Tobacco Usage Policy is in the best interest of Grand Forks residents.

Grand Forks Park Board still uncertain on tobacco ban

By Charly Haley, Grand Forks Herald

After about 15 people stood up simultaneously during a Grand Forks Park Board meeting Tuesday and told the board they support tobacco-free parks, most board members remained uncertain about banning tobacco use.

“A general issue is, does the Park Board want to keep in fidelity with its mission to promote a healthy lifestyle?” said Jim Whitehead, a representative of the Coalition for a Healthy Greater Grand Forks, to the board.

A ban on all tobacco use, both smoking and chewing, has been discussed by the Park Board for about two years. The idea is championed by Park Board member Molly Soeby, but other board members haven’t stated clear opinions on the issue.

In a back-and-forth between audience members speaking in favor of a tobacco ban, most Park Board members said the answer isn’t simple.

“I don’t think any of us are here to say we want smoking for our kids,” board member Tim Skarperud said. But, “We already have a pretty substantial law in place, and are we here to set laws?”

Board President Jay Panzer agreed.

“Who are we to make additional laws above and beyond what the city has already done?” Panzer said.

Grand Forks city code prohibits smoking at the Park District’s softball fields and golf courses, but that does not include chewing tobacco, and the law does not encompass playgrounds or dog parks, Soeby said.

She offered health statistics in favor of a full tobacco ban, including that more children than adults chew tobacco in North Dakota, at 13.8 percent of children versus 7.6 percent of adults.

Other board members said they agree there are health problems associated with tobacco use, but they still aren’t sure about the effectiveness of a tobacco ban, especially because it would be difficult to enforce.

Board member Paul Barta said he’s also undecided, but he’s leaning in favor of the Park Board “setting the trend” by banning all tobacco use in public parks.

While several audience members spoke in favor of the tobacco ban, none spoke against it.

“You have people here, in chairs, telling you how important this is for Grand Forks,” one audience member said. “Where are they?”

LaDouceur, Skarperud and Panzer said they’ve received several calls from people against the ban, and they want to consider those people, too, in making a decision.

“There are certain people that want to be out in the front like this,” Skarperud said, referring to the audience at the meeting, “and there are certain people we talk to behind the scenes.”

Park District Director Bill Palmiscno said he’s hopeful the Park Board will vote in favor of some sort of expanded tobacco ban, whether that’s banning all tobacco use in parks or extending the smoking ban to all parks.

“I don’t want us to not move forward because we can’t have a compromise,” Palmiscno said. “I would rather get part of this done than nothing done.”

Park Board members did not vote on a tobacco policy Tuesday.

Palmiscno said he’d have Park District staff draft two ordinances — one with a full tobacco ban, and another with an increased ban — to be reviewed at a future board meeting.

Letter to the Editor: The issue with smoking is addiction, not freedom

I am writing in response to the Herald’s editorial on tobacco use in Grand Forks parks (“Too much loss for too little gain,” Page F1, June 1).

Tobacco prevention policies have, throughout history, always been met with some resistance. Tobacco use was so common when I was a child that it was normal to see smokers in grocery stores, movie theaters, school classrooms, teacher’s lounges, doctors’ offices, airplanes, airports and hospital rooms.

Each of those changes was met with the attitude that it was beyond the pale to even consider making changes. But today, it would seem unusual to see someone smoking in their hospital room or at a movie theater.

Tobacco use rates were high, and we all paid the price of the damage tobacco use does to the human body by way of health care costs, Medicaid costs, loss of productivity and sadly, early deaths of loved ones.

As a result of sound evidence-based practices, such as 1) preventing initiation among youth and young adults, 2) promoting quitting among adults and youth, 3) eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and 4) identifying and eliminating tobacco-related disparities among population groups, headway has been made in reducing tobacco-use rates. But there still is work to be done.

Grand Forks Park District Commissioner Molly Soeby’s column put it well: “Tobacco use kills more people than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined” (“For health’s sake, Grand Forks parks should ban tobacco use,” Page F1, June 1).

“It is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our country. Young people in North Dakota use tobacco more than the national averages. They smoke at higher rates (19.4 percent vs. 18.1 percent), and they use more chewing tobacco than adults (13.6 percent vs. 8.2 percent).”

Tobacco use kills about 480,000 people each and every year in the United States. That equals the number of American deaths in all the U.S. wars since the American Revolution, every 2½ years.

So, what can be done to improve these numbers? What does the research show us works?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends creating tobacco-free social norms through the use of “increasing the unit price of tobacco products, sustaining anti-tobacco media campaigns and making environments smoke-free.”

Tobacco-free parks policies are part of a comprehensive combination of strategies to get our youth tobacco use rates lowered.

Tobacco-free parks policies will keep young people from ever starting. The research is done, the evidence is clear. According to the CDC, comprehensive tobacco-free policies prevent young people from seeing tobacco use as a normal adult activity and show a significant effect on reducing tobacco use initiation among youth.

Our community would not be the first to adopt a tobacco-free parks policy. North Dakota currently has 12 communities with tobacco-free parks, and Minnesota has more than 150.

According to the editorial, “secondhand smoke in indoor areas is a health hazard; secondhand smoke in parks in inconsequential.”

But it’s not about secondhand smoke, which, by the way, many people consider a nuisance that interferes with their personal enjoyment of the parks. It is about what we know will work to keep young people from starting to use tobacco.

The editorial says that this is not a good enough reason to “clamp down on personal freedom.”

But this is not a personal freedom issue, either. Tobacco use is an addiction, and most adult tobacco users report that they started using before age 18.

A policy such at this will not prohibit anyone from using tobacco. It will help to keep children, who do not use tobacco, from starting.

That is a public health issue, not a personal freedom issue.

Recent studies in Grand Forks show overwhelming support in the community for the adoption of tobacco-free policies on all of our Park District properties. (The community-wide study is available on

Tobacco-free parks policies are cost effective. They’re good for the health of North Dakotans now and, as Soeby put it, “for future generations of residents of Grand Forks.”

Knox coordinates the tobacco prevention program for the Grand Forks Public Health Department.

Andrew Knight: Extend to parks the push to reduce smoking

Smoking should be allowed in Grand Forks parks because banning it “clamps down on personal freedom?” (“Too much cost for too little gain,” editorial, Page F1, June 1)

Is the argument really about progress vs. freedom?

The Herald’s “ThreeSixty” opinion section on June 1 includes the phrases “enjoy a cigarette on a park bench,” “cigarette smoke smells like roses,” and that a “(smoking) ban is ‘pointless’ from a traditional perspective.” It felt more like an opinion section from the 1960s.

Grand Forks Park District Commissioner Molly Soeby expertly lays out the issues with several pieces of evidence for this ban, and then non-local public policy wonks (Dennis Prager et al.) are trotted out as the counterpoint, with nary a point made specific to smoking in parks.

Soeby explains 78 percent of the Grand Forks community and 82 percent of golfers and softball managers are for a comprehensive tobacco-free policy. Even with sampling error, we can discern a clear majority opinion here.

How then, does Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman think the ban would be “very unpopular?” (“Banning smoking in parks a ‘needless intrusion,’” letter, Page A4, June 4).

This isn’t to say that I don’t expect a small but vocal backlash from the “hey, freedom!” crowd.

The supposed “counter” to Soeby’s arguments and statistics is a smattering of excerpts on the topic of smoking, starting with Simon Chapman from Australia (yes, Australia). Chapman compares car exhaust to secondhand smoke because we breathe in benzene from both sources. There are a LOT of car owners and not nearly as many smokers. How much benzene shoots out of exhausts in cars versus a single cigarette?

This argument fails because he’s using two different scales.

Chapman finishes the tortured analogy saying “we hear no serious calls for the banning of cars.” First, no one is calling for banning cigarettes; it’s about reducing smoking.

Second, there is substantial market pressure on car companies to reduce emissions. Science told us vehicle emissions are pretty bad, so we are trying hard to reduce them. Science also told us smoking is bad, so that’s why the push to reduce places where smoking is allowed needs to continue to parks and other public places.

The slippery slope fallacy continued with an excerpt from a New York Times editorial (from three years ago) to that city’s smoking ban, comparing it outright to alcohol prohibition 90 years ago. If we ban smoking in parks, it may lead to “a civic disaster,” according to the writer.

If this is the best group of arguments to keep smoking legal in parks, maybe it means there are few, if any, locals willing to write against the ban (in which case, kudos to Gershman and the Herald’s editorial board for being lone wolves on this minority opinion).

You have freedom to smoke on your property, in your car, while you walk around town and so on. You have freedom to do a LOT of things in your own home that you cannot do in a park because many of us believe it is better not to expose nature, playgrounds and children to it.

Add smoking to the list. We don’t want children to see adults smoking, feel cigarette butts in their toes or smell the cigarette smoke. Leave the cigarettes in the car for a round of golf or a volleyball match.

Soon my family is moving to Colorado — a state with acres ravaged by fires in recent years. Herald readers can probably understand that the residents there are skittish about smoking in places such as parks and playgrounds, and therefore have enacted smoking bans.

Like people in Grand Forks, they have natural beauty worth preserving, would prefer not seeing people “enjoying a cigarette on a park bench” and don’t want to take the chance that an errant cigarette butt could take down a forest range.

We’re packing up for the move and are already missing people we’ve befriended here, but we won’t miss the overly cautious, conservative approach to environmental protections.

This is not a simple false choice of progress or freedom. The Park Board should feel very confident moving forward in enacting this policy.

And to the Herald editorial board: Yes, the benefits are more than worth the costs.

Knight is an assistant professor in the music department at UND.

Grand Forks Park District seeks info before acting on tobacco ban

Grand Forks Park District Commissioners want to gather some more information before acting on a tobacco-free policy.

Commissioners received the results of a poll last week that showed overwhelming support for adopting a comprehensive tobacco-free policy on Park District property. On Friday, commissioners said they wanted to hear from adult users of park facilities, such as softball league teams, before crafting or acting on a policy.

“If we wanted to implement a policy right now (that says) absolutely no smoking for parts that have anything to do with our youth, we could do that tomorrow,” said Greg LaDouceur, vice president of the Park Board. “I think everybody’s got the same idea on that.”

“We’re just a little bit more cautious with our adult user groups,” he added.

The poll surveyed the Grand Forks community at large and people who use Park District facilities, such as softball team managers and golfers. Users showed more support for a tobacco-free policy, with 82 percent of respondents saying they strongly or somewhat support the idea while 78 percent of the community respondents showed support.

The survey question also mentions electronic cigarettes as being part of the ban. Minneapolis is considering banning all forms of smoking throughout its parks, including e-cigs.

LaDouceur said one concern they have is how a tobacco-free policy would be enforced.

Still, Paul Barta, another commissioner, called the survey an “important first step.”

“I think we learned a lot from that survey,” Barta said. “I think the results were pretty positive to going towards tobacco-free parks. So I think we have a good start to maybe head down that direction.”

Any tobacco-free policy wouldn’t affect the Greater Grand Forks Greenway, said Park District Director Bill Palmiscno.

Forum editorial: Prohibit smoking in all parks

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.
All metro area communities, large and small, should follow the lead of Dilworth and Moorhead and ban smoking in public parks. Dilworth took the smart step last week. Moorhead parks have been smoke-free since 2011. The Fargo Park District has a limited ban that allows smoking 25 feet away from playgrounds. West Fargo allows smoking in parks.
Parks primarily are venues for families and children. Moreover, park officials champion healthy lifestyles. The sports activities that take place on park fields comport with fitness and health. Smoking should be anathema.
In addition to bans and partial bans in the metro, nearby cities that ban smoking in parks include Mayville, Kindred, Valley City, Cooperstown and Wahpeton, all in North Dakota. Dozens of Minnesota cities have bans in place.
While some smokers might see the closing off of more public spaces as a violation of their rights, that argument is nonsense. There remains a plethora of places where smokers can indulge their habit, as long as it does not threaten the health of others. The many voter-approved bans in place reflect recognition that smoking and secondhand smoke are health issues, not rights issues. Some smokers will debate that unassailable premise until they cough their lungs out, but as a matter of public policy the debate is over.
Therefore, the Fargo Park District should extend its limited ban to every square foot of park land, and West Fargo should ban smoking in every one of its beautiful, allegedly family-friendly parks.

Tobacco Is No Longer Tolerated at Valley City Parks

On the heels of a state wide smoking ban in public places, a North Dakota city is taking it one step further. Tobacco use is now against the law in city parks and several other city-owned areas in Valley City. Valley News team’s Eric Crest clears the air on where smoking is, and is not, allowed in the city.
It wasn’t long ago that the state of North Dakota decided it was time to embrace a new smoking ordinance.
“I loved it, I absolutely loved it,” says, Heather Hildebrant of Bismarck.
The state wide ordinance kept cigarettes out of businesses and the approach to their entrances.
“I can bring my son outside and go anywhere and not worry about people smoking outside of buildings or inside of them anymore,” adds Hildebrant.
Recently Valley City took it one step further. A handful of city property will be tobacco free now too.
“They can’t smoke in any park owned property, any activity arenas outside, in any of our buildings,” explains Dick Gulmon the President of the Park and Recreation Board for Valley City.
That includes playgrounds, spectator areas, athletic fields, concession areas, and even parking lots on nearly all of the cities property.
“It’s our responsibility in managing the parks and recreation programming to set an example of a healthy lifestyle,” says Gulmon.
“It drives me insane. They’re not only affecting their body, they’re taking the choice away from everyone else around them that don’t want it in their system,” adds Hildebrant.
The Tobacco Prevention Coordinator in Valley City says by eliminating all tobacco use in public parks in town, they’re not just reversing the normalization of tobacco use, but they’re also impacting generations to come.
“I think it’s the effect on the youth. I think promoting that healthy lifestyle and not seeing cigarette butts in the parks, and (not to mention) what that can do to the environment. But promoting that for the youth and setting that example,” says Gulmon.
Because as the state and cities alike continue taking steps like these, it’s the youth, that will reap the benefits.
“It’s their choice I guess. What they want to do with their body. But it just bugs me when they do it around other people cause then we’re stuck with the consequence of their choices,” says Hildebrant.
Not all public parks in Valley City are tobacco free just yet. The local Tourist Park Campground and Bjornson’s Public Golf Course did not end up on the list. The park board mentioned that out of concern for a loss of business to neighboring communities, they made an exception.

New, desirable norm with tobacco

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
Usually, cultural change in North Dakota starts in the bigger cities and seeps down to less populated towns.
That isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to tobacco, however.
Earlier this year, Cooperstown, N.D., a town of about 1,000 people in Griggs County, passed a tobacco ban in its city park. The ban includes the use of smokeless tobacco.
The Grand Forks Park Board hasn’t taken that extra step.
“We accepted the state law, which has no ban on smokeless,” said Bill Palmiscno, Park District director. “And, the way it was explained to us by the city health department, the smoking ban is about being around activities. If you go off alone somewhere in the park, you’re OK to smoke.”
Leading the charge in Cooperstown was Julie Ferry, administrator of the Nelson-Griggs Health Unit.
“I can’t take credit for it,” Ferry said. “The credit needs to go to health-minded people on the Cooperstown Park Board and their employees.”
A popular – and somewhat defensible – argument for not including smokeless tobacco is that there’s no second-hand damage to non-users, as there is with smoke. But Ferry comes well-armed to argue that point.
Her case is that: 1) Chew can have second-hand damage because it’s spit on the ground and can be consumed by youngsters and pets; 2) Chew sets a bad example; and 3) Banning chew can help to set a new, more desirable norm.
“If we adopt policies that limit places you can do something, that creates a new social norm,” Ferry said. “The social norm used to be that you could smoke on airplanes. Now you can’t.
“The consequence to others is them seeing it and thinking it’s an acceptable behavior. We need to role model for our youth.”
Molly Soeby, a first-term commissioner who has brought diversity to the Grand Forks Park Board in more ways than her gender, hasn’t given up her efforts to make parks tobacco-free. She has applied for a grant to conduct two surveys about the issue. One would be for the general public and the other specific to golfers and softball players, anticipated to be the demographic most opposed to a ban.
“The whole purpose behind this is to not get kids started because it’s so addicting,” Soeby said.
If the grant comes through, the survey should be completed by the end of summer. If the survey is favorable to her cause, Grand Forks may become the next Cooperstown.
“It’s sometimes easier to watch what bigger cities do, so you can find out where the battlegrounds are,” Ferry said. “On the other hand, because everyone knows everyone else, small towns can get things done faster.”