October 19, 2016
On Monday, October 17, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and Commissioners approved a policy that protects all those using County property and facilities from exposure to secondhand smoke. County Commissioner Carlos Leon along with the County’s Human Resources Department introduced a policy that would prohibit the use of tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, pipe tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.
The policy would go into effect on January 1, 2017, and prohibit the use of tobacco on all enclosed property, open space within or between enclosed facilities, outside areas within 20 feet of a doorway or window that can be opened, garages, parking lots, and locations indicated by authorized signage. It also offers protection to youth and families that utilize parks owned, leased, or controlled by County as well as sports arenas such as sports pavilions, stadiums, gymnasiums, swimming pools, baseball fields, softball fields, and racquetball and handball courts.
“I use County facilities regularly as I am on the swim team and like to spend time outdoors,” said Jorge Retana, 19-year-old senior at Burges High School. “For my health and others, I am glad that this policy was approved.”
A survey of nearly 500 El Paso County residents showed that over 80% support a policy protecting youth and families from secondhand smoke in parks, pools, and parking garages. Over the course of two weeks, the Clean Air Coalition; The University of Texas at El Paso chapter of Eta Sigma Gamma, the Honor Society for Public Health Professionals; and members of the Paso del Norte Tobacco Control Network, conducted this survey at various County owned facilities.
Sophia Ornelas, a UTEP student and mother of three spoke to Commissioners to urge their adoption of the ordinance, “The truth is, children, including my own have very little control over their environments, which is why policies like this are so important to protect them.” Ms. Ornelas continued, “I feel strongly that I am not alone on this issue and am proud that El Paso County is taking the initiative in moving a tobacco-free policy forward.”
“The A Smoke Free Paso del Norte initiative applauds Commissioner Leon and the County’s Human Resources Department for their leadership in introducing this policy,” says José O. Rivera, Founding Dean of The University of Texas at El Paso Pharmacy and Principal Investigator of ASFPDN. “As we continue our efforts we know that endeavors, such as this one, will one day provide all residents with the same level of protection from secondhand smoke they need to live a healthy life.”
A Smoke Free Paso del Norte is an initiative of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.
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