NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Newtown Borough on Tuesday is expected to become the first municipality in the region and possibly the state outside of Philadelphia to designate its public parks a tobacco-free, vape-free and e-cigarette-free zone.
Council already has a prohibition on its books for smoking in the town’s parks. Under the amendment to the borough’s 2015 “Young Lungs at Play” tobacco-free zone ordinance, e-cigarettes and vaping would be added to the prohibition.
Council is scheduled to act on the amended ordinance at its June 11 meeting.
Councilor and borough mom Nicole Rodowicz brought the issue to council’s attention in 2018 concerned by the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use among young people and the opening of a vape store in town.
Since then she has led the effort to draft an updated resolution, with the help of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania and the borough’s solicitor, to educate the public and to protect the “young lungs” of children from the potential harmful affects of second hand smoke from cigarettes and second hand aerosol from vaping and e-cigarettes.
“The whole point of this is to bring attention to it - that if you vape in our parks you’re breaking the law,” said Rodowicz in 2018, who is hoping the action sends a strong message to the area’s young people that vaping along with smoking won’t be tolerated in borough-owned public spaces.
Rodowicz made the proposal after speaking with Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser of the Council Rock School District, district judge Mick Petrucci and administrators at Council Rock High School South and the Newtown Middle School, all of whom said vaping has become a big problem.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavorings and other chemicals. They can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes (cig-a-likes), cigars or pipes, or even everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks.
E-cigarettes are popular among teens and are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States. Their easy availability, alluring advertisements, various e-liquid flavors and the belief that they're safer than cigarettes have helped make them appealing to the age group.
If enacted, the tobacco-free, vape-free and e-cigarette free zones would include Brian Gregg Park on North Congress Street, Linton Memorial Park on Lincoln Avenue, Pickering Field at Jefferson and Chancellor streets, the Newtown Common at the base of West Greene Street and at the borough’s newly-acquired property on Court Street behind the Bird In Hand.
Melanie Swanson of The Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a private non-profit prevention, education, advocacy, assessment, intervention, and recovery support organization, said she “commends Nicole and Newtown Borough for forging ahead” with the resolution and incorporating vaping and e-cigarettes into their tobacco-free parks.
“They are not only setting a good example for children, but they are protecting children from the potentially harmful affect of second hand aerosol,” said Swanson, who had been working closely with the borough on its resolution and was invited earlier this year to make a public presentation before council on vaping.
Swanson, who works as a prevention specialist with the Council, said she’s hoping the resolution becomes a model for other municipalities to follow.
“By doing this in the parks, especially where you have young children playing, you’re not only modeling good behavior there’s also more and more evidence that people can be impacted by second hand aerosol from the vape. The whole idea behind Young Lungs At Play and tobacco free parks is to protect young children and their developing lungs from nioctine and second hand smoke. Now there’s evidence that you can actually be truly harmed by second hand aerosols.
Added Swanson, “Hopefully this will educate the community on vaping, e-cigarettes and what they are, what it does and how it can be harmful to youth and to begin changing the perception around it. Unfortunately, in many cases, kids just don’t see that it’s harmful. Part of that is because it’s so new and there’s not a lot of data.”
But with more and more data coming out about vaping and e-cigarette use, Swanson said it’s a good idea to get out in front of the curve with resolutions like the one Newtown is considering.
“It’s a win-win for everybody because children won’t be exposed and it’s setting a good example,” said Swanson. “I commend them for protecting the healthy development of youth.”
According to Swanson, there’s growing evidence that there may be more harm to the lungs from vaping than smoking.
“You have these little tiny metal particles that are heated up that lodge into the deep tissues of the lungs and causing irritation and we don’t really know ultimately how that’s eliminated from the body,” she said.
“Is vaping less harmful than smoking? There’s not nearly as many chemicals in it compared to smoking, but we don’t know for sure whether it’s less harmful. We know it’s not harmless. And there’s certainly enough evidence now to put up a red flag,” she said.
According to the resolution, an estimated 3.6 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes with Bucks County 12th graders vaping in the past month at a rate of 2.25 percent higher than the national average.
“The opportunity to educate and raise awareness about the issue is great. And by banning and prohibiting vaping in parks and putting that at the same level as smoking sends a message that maybe this is something that isn’t so harmless,” said Swanson.
“It’s protecting young people and also sending a message of awareness. And it’s also leveling the playing field because we know these products are not harmless and they can do some harm to young lungs and young people,” said Swanson. “It’s wonderful that Newtown is taking a stand, educating the public, raising awareness and changing their policy to keep up with the times.”