By Linda Looney-Bond
Clayton County resident, Jay Burton, 48, of Rex, and his wife, Hope, have lived in Clayton for 21 years. They have two sons, Christopher, age 13, and Michael, age 11, who played baseball for several years in Henry County, where smoking is banned in public parks.
So when their youngest son signed up to play baseball at Clayton County's Walter Estes Rex Park in March, Burton said he was surprised to learn that smoking was still allowed at Clayton County parks.
"It's not an anti-smoking thing. It's more of a healthy kid thing - health for other people, too - but especially for children," he said. "My goal is for people to realize you're harming them [children] with second-hand smoke. If a kid's playing third base and smoke is blowing across the field ... they're kind of captive in their positions.
"They can't move," he said. "I depend on somebody, hopefully, having the common sense to go smoke somewhere else."
In March, Burton contacted Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton, in hopes of getting a smoking ban in place at Clayton parks. On Tuesday, the Clayton County Commission unanimously approved a resolution banning smoking in all Clayton County Parks and Recreation facilities, including public parks.
"Definitely, he [Burton] brought it to our attention," said Singleton. "I thought it was a great idea. I took it to our parks director. The parks director presented it to the board, and, of course, we voted on it and passed it," she said.
"Mr. Burton brought it [smoking ban] to our attention because he is a park parent, and there were other parents that felt the same way," said Singleton. "Other parents were pushing for this as well."
The ban makes it unlawful to smoke or use tobacco products, including, but not limited to, snuff and chewing tobacco, within a Clayton County park. "This is to encourage healthy living and overall wellness for the citizens of Clayton County," said Amy Keeney, marketing and sales manager for Clayton County Parks and Recreation.
According to county documents describing the purpose of the smoking ban, the goal is to "protect people from the effects of second-hand smoke, which include an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, emphysema and other diseases."
Although the ban was effective immediately, Keeney said no-smoking signs will not be posted right away. She said the department is working on how the signs will be worded, and planning an education campaign.
"We're going to begin an aggressive, smoke-free campaign, and along with that, we're going to educate the public about our new ordinance," said Keeney. "After the campaign ... we will post signs at all of the facilities and parks," she said.
Keeney estimated that the no-smoking signs would probably be posted about three months from now.
According to a statement released by the Parks and Recreation Department, violation of the smoking ban can result in a "fine not exceeding $1,000, or six months imprisonment, or both, except as otherwise provided by general law." However, Keeney said violators would likely receive a warning first.
"We are delighted that the board of commissioners supports this initiative as we promote the awareness and overall dangers of second-hand smoke," said Clayton County Parks and Recreation Director Detrick Stanford, in a written statement.
Alzada Harris Randall, of Morrow, who watched her 6-year-old granddaughter on the playground at Rex Park Friday, said she's glad the ban was passed. "Kids don't need second-hand smoke, and I've never smoked in my life, and I don't need it, either," she said.
Jerry Walker, 45, of Rex, who brought his two young sons and two nephews to the park Friday said about the ban: "I'm down with it. I don't want the kids to see people smoking. It sets a bad precedent. It's also cancer-causing."