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Letter: Another Step for Smoke-Free City

Councilwoman Del Pepper and Mayor Bill Euille place the first “Thank you for not smoking” sign on a City bus shelter.

Councilwoman Del Pepper and Mayor Bill Euille place the first “Thank you for not smoking” sign on a City bus shelter.

To the Editor

The Mayor and City Council are to be congratulated for steps they have recently taken to address what Surgeon Generals of the U.S. have called the two leading causes of preventable death and disease in America: tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. In January, the City Council, by a vote of 5 to 1, authorized the placement of signs discouraging smoking in all City-owned parks, playgrounds and bus shelters. The signs read: For everyone’s health, thank you for not smoking in our parks and playgrounds, with a similar message for bus shelters.

The signs have information on how to contact the state Quitline (1-800-QUITNOW) for those who are thinking about quitting. Surveys indicate that at least 70 percent of smokers are interested in quitting but most say they know of no other alternative than to go “cold turkey.” The Quitline offers free and confidential counseling by telephone; and, it often serves as the first (and sometimes the only) line of help for smokers who want to quit.

The resolution followed a six-month experiment that permitted smoke-free signs in City playgrounds, with a proviso that public sentiment must be assessed before Council would agree to move forward in other public spaces. Last December, the Alexandria Health Department surveyed users of all 34 playgrounds and found a 94 percent public approval rate.

With such significant community support and a strong recommendation by Stephen Haering, MD, MPH, the director of the Alexandria Health Department, City Council approved the measure to allow signs to be placed in all parks and bus shelters.

On March 21, scores of youth and community volunteers gathered at a bus stop on King Street, just two blocks from the T.C. Williams campus, to witness Mayor William Euille and Councilwoman Del Pepper place the first “Thank you for not smoking” sign on a City bus shelter. Both the mayor and the councilwoman thanked the crowd for their activism and encouraged them to develop more ideas that could lead to further reductions in smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in the community.

Councilwoman Pepper, sponsor of the original resolution, said she was proud of the fact that Alexandria is the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth to have covered all three public sites — parks, playgrounds and bus shelters — with signs that ask smokers to consider the health of those around them and to refrain from smoking in those areas.

The action by City Council clearly places the City of Alexandria as a leader in the Commonwealth on this important public health issue. The initiative offers a unique and non-bureaucratic approach to reducing the exposure of children and non-smoking adults to the harmful effects of second hand smoke. And it relies totally on the good will and civic-mindedness of the public for compliance. Both the Public Health Advisory Commission and the Clean and Smoke-Free Air Coalition are working on other recommendations that could move the City toward a vision of becoming the most smoke-free city of its size in America.

Richard E. Merritt

Chairman, Alexandria Coalition on Clean and Smoke-Free Air Chairman, Alexandria Public Health Advisory Commission