Baltimore County Councilmembers David Marks, Tom Quirk and Vicki Almond introduced a bill to prohibit smoking within certain areas of Baltimore County Recreation and Parks facilities, including open air public parks, at the Jan. 22 council meeting.

The legislation bans smoking within the boundaries of county-run playgrounds, tot lots, dog parks, organized games or events sponsored by Recreation and Parks as well as people within 20 feet of a Recreation and Parks building.

Marks said the bill came about on the recommendation of the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks board.

"The members of the all-volunteer board were concerned about smoking outside of public buildings," Marks said "I have personally received complaints from parents that kids using the playgrounds were being exposed to secondhand smoke."

Michael Weber, chairman of the Baltimore County Parks and Recreation board, said a private citizen came to them with the idea for the ban about a year ago. The board members then drafted a recommendation to Marks to put the ban in place.

"It helps bring the parks in harmony with the public schools. They already have this ban, and since we share facilities, it just makes sense," Weber said. "Also, since there are so many children at the parks, it basically sets the right tone."

In Maryland, smoking has been banned in public indoor areas, including most restaurants and retail stores, with the passage of the Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007. According to the University of Maryland's Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy, Anne Arundel, Caroline, Carroll, Charles, Harford and Howard counties have partial or full bans on smoking in county parks.

Darryl Konter, health communications specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the organization doesn't know exactly what the exposure levels to secondhand smoke are in outdoor areas.

"The CDC has not conducted much of its own research on the impact of secondhand smoke in outdoor spaces," Konter said. "However, we know people can be exposed to secondhand smoke, and there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure, so we support any policy that protects the right to breathe clean air."

For information on the effect of secondhand smoke in open air spaces, Konter referenced a study published by the Roswell Park research institute, "Secondhand smoke exposure levels in outdoor hospitality venues" from 2012.

The study examined the published research on the effects of secondhand smoke on employees of hospitality venues, such as outdoor patios of bars and restaurants. The study concluded that further research is needed to understand the health effects of intermittent exposure to secondhand smoke.

"Policy-driven smoke-free policies have typically been grounded in the prevention of adverse health effects to non-users of tobacco products," according to the document. "However, current evidence of potential adverse health effects due to intermittent tobacco smoke exposures at outdoor hospitality venues is weak."

Marks said the legislation has received support from the American Cancer Society.

"The way I look at it is it's always better to lean on the safer side. At the minimum, it's a nuisance to families," Marks said. "I think it's reasonable legislation. We're not saying you can't smoke in the woods, or on a pier, or a trail where you're not bothering anyone. We're saying you can't smoke where there's a large group of people, particularly children."

Robert Brookland, chairman of Radiation Oncology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and board member of the American Cancer Society, said the Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a carcinogen - a cancer-causing agent - and there is no safe level of exposure to carcinogens.

"There's a question over whether we have done enough studies to measure the relative danger of outdoor exposure. Sure, it would be nice to have more research on it, but I can't avoid the inescapable fact that we're dealing with known carcinogens that cause cancer," Brookland said. "The vast majority of Marylanders are non-smokers. Do we need to be subjected; do we need to be exposed to even low levels of carcinogens? The onus should be on the smokers to prove it is not injurious to us."

Marks said the legislation is intended to be a guide for visitors to the parks.

"Our police have finite resources. We're not going to be going around arresting people," Marks said. "We figure families will enforce it themselves. It allows parents in the park to point to a sign that says 'That is not OK.'"

The bill will be discussed at the council's Feb. 11 work session, and the final vote will be taken Feb. 18 during the legislative session.