Teens Crusade to Stomp Out Smoking in Chicago-Area Public Parks

Filed under: In The News, Alcohol & Drugs

man smoking picture

Illinois teens are working to prohibit tobacco use in public parks. Credit: Getty Images

Nothing like taking a springtime escape outside to the park with your kids, only to end up plucking cigarette butts from the bottom of their gym shoes, or inhaling smoke that's wafting over as you're pushing your child in the swing.

So much for fresh air and inspiring healthy habits for your impressionable offspring. But here's some news to celebrate: If you happen to be hanging out at a park in Chicago's northern suburbs, you and your young ones may spot a group of teens scouring the parks, picking up stale butts and calling for bans on smoking in public parks, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Advocates -- and parents -- are applauding the teens' efforts, saying prohibiting tobacco use in public parks is a good idea not only because of its positive impact on public health and the environment, but because it sets a strong example for little kids to stay away from cigarettes, the newspaper says.

Inspired by SmokeFreeIllinois.org, a statewide effort which has banned outdoor smoking in 40 park districts, and the City of Chicago, which has banned smoking at public parks, the teenagers are directing a group called Reality Illinois in an effort to persuade park districts in Lake County (the northern suburbs in the state) to ban tobacco in parks, according to the Tribune.

During the last three years, the group of about 25 teens has helped clean up more than 1,000 cigarette butts from the parks. The group also has conducted a survey of more than 1,300 Lake County residents (85 percent of them say they prefer a ban) to present to town park district board to get smoking bans in place.

"They're a place where you want to be healthy and set an example," Kevin Vargas, 17, a senior at Round Lake High School, tells the Tribune.

These smoking bans are important, according to health specialists, who say inhaling secondhand smoke can trigger asthma and breathing difficulties inside or outside. Beyond that, many people don't realize that discarded butts contain no biodegradable plastics and persistent poisons, Barbara de Nekker, community health specialist for the Lake County Department of Health, tells the Tribune.

"The same chemicals found in smoke leak into soil and the water table," she tells the newspaper. "Those chemicals are cancer-causing. Animals eat them. Children pick them up."

A recent study shows cigarette smoking not only impacts a teen's brain, but more than 80 percent of smokers picked up the habit during the teen years, according to ScienceDaily.com. Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, with more than 400,000 deaths each year attributable to smoking and its consequences, the site adds.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.