By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Thirteen-year-old Donald Cox says he knows firsthand the dangers of secondhand cigarette smoke. He's growing up in a home with parents who smoke, and he says he now suffers from asthma.
"My mom is trying to quit smoking now," he said. "I know it's really hard for her. But I support her."
Cox says he wants to help ensure his younger counterparts are aware of the dangers of using tobacco products. Cox was one of nearly 20 youths from the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line in attendance at Monday night's City Council meeting, encouraging council members to pass Resolution No. 3426 - a resolution designating all 20 parks in the city of Havre as tobacco-free.
"A yes vote means you support cleaner parks," Jay Schuschke, a prevention specialist with the Boys & Girls Club, said at Monday's meeting. "A yes vote means you support a positive, healthier lifestyle for our kids."
The youths' efforts were well-received by the council.
"These kids are pillars of the community," Havre Mayor Bob Rice said. "Their efforts are truly to be commended."
Cox also attended a Havre City Council Parks and Recreation Committee meeting July 19, where he and nearly 80 other young students urged the committee to recommend that the full council adopt the resolution banning all tobacco products in city parks.
"Smoking and chewing set a bad example for kids," said Cox, who's looking forward to eighth grade at Havre Middle School. "Hopefully this will help keep our parks clean, no more littering of tobacco products."
Council members responded to the youths' plea Monday, passing the resolution 6-1.
"This resolution really shows support of an ideal," Pam Hillery, City Council member and chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, said Monday. "The tobacco-free parks resolution really looks to Havre becoming an even better city and I support that."
Other City Council members agreed with Hillery.
"As an 18-year veteran of tobacco use, I applaud the efforts of these kids," City Council member Jack Brandon said. "But I also respect free choice, and I don't think passing the tobacco-free resolution takes that free choice away. I'm in full support."
The youths first started working on the tobacco-free parks project in March, according to Schuschke, who said it took months to formulate a project plan and draft a resolution banning tobacco in all city parks.
"The kids really came together on this one," Schuschke said. "They felt that cleaner parks for the community was definitely a goal worth pursuing, and they proved successful."
Fourteen-year-old Tony Filler, a soon-to-be freshman at Havre High School, said he was thrilled with the council's vote.
"We're excited. Most people I've talked to are in support of this resolution," he said. "A tobacco-free environment will really be a good thing for our park system."
When the Boys & Girls Club first addressed the Parks and Recreation Committee with the resolution in July, committee members discussed making a stronger tobacco-free statement by drafting an ordinance. But Schuschke said a tobacco-free resolution was adequate, and that the city didn't need to go a step further by passing an ordinance.
"A resolution is simply a statement of support of an idea," he said. "It's not an ordinance, it's not a law, it's not enforceable. But it still makes a strong statement."
The resolution contains no penalties for those who use tobacco products in parks.
Schuschke said he hopes the tobacco-free statement is heard loud and clear by residents who frequent the city's parks.
"The passage of this resolution means the city supports the idea that use of tobacco products in front of children is a bad influence," he said Tuesday. "It supports the idea of a safer and healthier community."
The next step for the Boys & Girls Club is to purchase a set of signs that ban the use of tobacco products within the parks' boundaries. Schuschke said he plans to work with city officials to decide the best place to post the signs.
"We're just taking things one step at a time," he said. "But it's exciting to see what this group of kids has accomplished. Their efforts prove that anyone can effect positive change in their community."