NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> As kids scampered and played at Linton Memorial Park on June 26, the fresh healthy evening air pumping through their young lungs, Newtown Borough Councilor Nicole Rodowicz announced that the borough parks are now officially vape and e-cigarette free zones.

Rodowicz was joined by Melanie Swanson, a prevention specialist with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, and Newtown Borough Police Chief James Sabath in unveiling a new Young Lungs at Play sign that alerts the public to its new “no vaping” prohibition.

And by the end of this month, no vaping stickers will be added to the already existing “Young Lungs At Play” no smoking signs at each of the borough’s parks.

Newtown Borough earlier this month became 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 via a resolution.

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 resolution, e-cigarettes and vaping have now been added to the prohibition.

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.

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.

Rodowicz is hoping the action sends a strong message to the area’s young people that vaping is just as dangerous and addicting as smoking and it won’t be allowed in borough-owned public spaces where it could impact children at play.

“Years ago, when people figured out cigarettes weren’t good for you, many stopped smoking,” said Rodowicz. “Now, here we are again in 2019 and people don’t understand the dangers of vaping and think it’s cool. Some of these products are candy-like and come in different flavors so they are not really grasping that this is just as bad as a cigarette,” she said.

“By doing things like this - by putting up signage and passing our Young Lungs at Play resolution - it will hopefully educate people and let them know that this is a problem and Newtown Borough is going to take it seriously.”

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.

The newly-designated tobacco-free, vape-free and e-cigarette free zones 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.

While the resolution doesn’t contain an enforcement mechanism, it does authorize its elected and appointed officials to make periodic observation of tobacco free and vape free areas to promote compliance and awareness. It also gives parents and law enforcement a sign to point to when they see a violation taking place.

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 has adopted

“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.”

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