Erie MetroParks leaders are mulling over legislation that could snuff any park visitor's chance of legally lighting up a cigarette on park property.
As an agency that promotes wellness, the three-member park board said it only makes sense to make the MetroParks a smoke-free zone.
"It doesn't sit well with me," said Tom Dusza, a MetroParks board member, pointing out the apparent contradiction of allowing a health-oriented agency to turn a blind eye to smoking on park property.
But leaders at the park system don't want to stop there -- they also want to enact a policy requiring their employees to be smoke-free at work and at home.
An increasing number of employers won't hire people who smoke, said Dusza, who championed his smoke-free plans at a park board meeting on Wednesday.
MetroParks executive director Steve Dice supported the idea, saying the park system could enact a non-smoking policy on an experimental basis at certain parks or enact a smoking ban for all 16 parks and facilities.
"Maybe we do the whole park system smoke-free," Dice said. "There are parks and recreation districts that already prohibit smoking on their property. It's definitely do-able."
Dice and Dusza said a non-smoking policy on park property would cut down on litter from cigarette butts, while a non-smoking policy for park employees would reduce health insurance costs.
The group said they'd still need to work out enforcement issues.
Firelands Regional Medical Center requires its employees to be non-smokers, as do other health facilities like Cleveland Clinic. Some of those employers require monthly or periodic tests that check for nicotine in employees' bloodstream.
Ohio Department of Health spokesman Kristopher Weiss said it's entirely up to the MetroParks to expand the state's smoking ban in such a way that it applies to the park system's entire property.
It's also perfectly legal, he added.
As for the employee requirement, Weiss said he suspected it would have to be an issue sorted out between the MetroParks and its employees.
In states such as Florida and Oklahoma, employers public and private have legally required employees to be nonsmokers as a way to cut down on health insurance costs and promote wellness.
It could be a similar story in Ohio, which is not among the 29 states that have a "smokers protection law" prohibiting employers from discriminating against smokers.
"In a majority of states, it isn't legal to prohibit public employees from smoking when they are off-duty, or to fire them for (smoking)," said Heather Grzelka, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association in Washington, D.C.
In states without smoker-protection laws, including Ohio, courts have generally found there is no constitutional right to smoke, so firing or not hiring smokers is legal, Grzelka said.
Dice said MetroParks attorneys are working on drafting a "no-smoking" resolution for the parks and its employees.
Board members plan to vote on it at the next MetroParks meeting Aug. 12.