By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — A resident sparked a discussion at the Town Council about making Derry’s parks smoke-free zones.
Nicole Bump said when takes her two children to play at Don Ball or Hood Park, she often finds other park visitors lighting up close to playground equipment.
Bump hopes the town might do something to enforce a more smoke-free environment at public parks and playgrounds in town.
“I have two sons,” she said, “and we were exposed to second-hand smoke.”
Bump said she didn’t want to push her toddler son on a swing with someone smoking nearby.
With only four swings at Hood, it can be hard to find a spot to play safely, she said.
Don Ball is much bigger, but there still are smokers near the playground equipment, Bump said.
“We’re trying to get out and be healthy,” she said. “But it’s counterproductive to be exposed to this dangerous situation.”
Her recent experience was not an isolated incident, Bump said. She and her two boys, ages 2 and 5 months, are often exposed to secondhand smoke at town parks.
“This is a very serious problem,” she said. “It’s every time I go. It happens a lot. Try telling a 2-year-old that he can’t use the swing.”
Town councilors Nov. 19 had mixed reactions to her request for some restrictions on smokers.
Councilor Al Dimmock, a former smoker, said it’s something Derry could explore.
“I smoked for 45 years and anybody that says it doesn’t affect you doesn’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “It’s not you you’re affecting, it’s the people around you.”
He said the Town Council has the power to put some rules into place.
“We have a right to say ‘no smoking’ on any town property,” he said. “It’s for the best interest of our kids.”
Councilor Mark Osborne said a solution might be to have a designated area at a park or other locations where those wishing to smoke could gather.
Bump said she is open to all ideas.
“Basically, I’m protecting my children,” she said. “Having a smoking section in a far-off place by the parking lot, I’m open to that.”
Derry already has some smoking restrictions in place.
No smoking is allowed with 45 feet of the town’s municipal center and school property is designated as smoke-free.
Enforcement can be tough, according to police.
“We’re very busy,” Capt. Vern Thomas said. “But when we walk areas for other reasons, that doesn’t mean we don’t see it taking place.”
Thomas said there have been issues at Pinkerton Academy’s Stockbridge Theatre when the space is rented out to other groups for performances and events.
Sometimes people forget the rules and light up outside the theater.
“People forget to see that as a school property,” Thomas said, “and school rules still apply.”
But, he said, most people are cooperative when they are told to stop smoking.
Bump has done research on other communities around the state and said there are towns that ban smoking in some public areas.
Chester has no-smoking signs at the playground and near the covered bridge at the town-owned Wason Pond recreational area on Route 102. School grounds are also posted as off limits to smokers.
“I’m all for it,” Chester police Chief William Burke said.
Osborne said although he appreciated Bump’s concerns and perhaps some restrictions could apply to areas where children play, he said an all-out ban might be too extreme.
“I don’t want Derry to turn into the anti-smoking Gestapo,” he said. “I know, everything is always about the kids, but a lot of adults out there who pay taxes want to be able to enjoy the streets, the parks, the transfer station and walking paths.”
Councilor Tom Cardon said putting some rules in place to prohibit smoking particularly in parks could work.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” he said.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said the ban shouldn’t be limited to parks. She said other areas, including the rail trail and dog park should make the list, especially when children are present.
“We have to address the whole picture,” she said.
Osborne said it’s an important issue, but he remained cautious about whether a smoking ban was the solution.
“I just don’t want to go off rail here,” he said, “and this discussion seems to be going there quick.”
Bump said she was pleased most councilors heard her concerns.
“I’m all about protecting my kids,” Bump said. “I know a lot of parents that are concerned about these issues.”