Teen advocacy group aims to snuff out tobacco at city parks

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Carlos Gonzalez vapes while at the Safford Skate Park. The Safford City Council unanimously passed a new ordinance making smoking or vaping anywhere inside Safford's parks a Class-2 misdemeanor punishable with a fine between $50 to $500.

By Jon Johnson


SAFFORD – Ever have an outing at a local park interrupted by a noxious cloud of smoke? If so, a proposal by a local youth advocate group may sound appealing.

Members of the anti-tobacco youth organization Students Taking a Road to Success (STARS) petitioned the Safford City Council at its Feb. 27 meeting to make the city’s parks tobacco-free. Being tobacco-free would ban the use of all forms of tobacco products, including smokeless varieties and vaping. Most of the group’s bullet points seemed geared around stoping people from smoking tobacco in a historical sense. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Graham County STARS petitioned the Safford City Council on Feb. 27. Pictured are, from left, Tatum Clifford, Ashly Hobbs, Garret Wilson, Tyler Clifford, Kaleb Ulibarri and Anika Ruiz.

“There is no level of safe exposure to second-hand smoke,” group spokesperson Garret Wilson said. “We believe that the children are very impressionable and seeing an adult smoking might encourage them to start.”

The group presented the council with a petition signed by 222 residents of Graham County to back their request and displayed a large jar full of discarded cigarette butts they cleaned up from Firth Park. Littering cigarette butts is already punishable in the city of Safford with a minimum fine of $50 up to a possible fine of $500. Other states have pushed that envelope even higher, such as Illinois, where tossing a cigarette butt out of a vehicle is punishable by a fine up to $1,500.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Safford Councilor Chris Taylor said he was in favor of a select designated area to smoke away from playground equipment.

The STARS, which is organized under the umbrella of the Graham County Health Department and has Toni Palomino as its adult representative, received a warm reception from council members who spoke on the topic.

“I think that it should be a smoke-free zone myself,” Mayor Jason Kouts said. “Of course, I’m not a smoker though.”

Vice Mayor Richard Ortega said the ordinance could possibly curb the area being utilized by the homeless population and expressed his support as well.

“I think it should be smoke-free myself,” Ortega said.

Safford Councilor Chris Taylor described having to move away from a piece of playground equipment his 18-month-old daughter wanted to play on due to smoke in the area the previous weekend.

“I had to bring her away from the swings that she really wanted to swing on because somebody was smoking,” he said. “I understand the other part too; people smoke and that’s their choice, and I understand that choice. But I also believe that we should have at least a designated area where they should go.” 

The item was for discussion-only, however, and an action item would have to be brought back to the council by city staff at a later date for it to vote on the matter.

On Thursday, Gila Valley Central spoke with a group of Safford Skate Park users, who, despite the skate park already being a designated area for no tobacco products according to its rules sign, were smoking regular cigarettes and vaping, ingesting a liquid tobacco product that emits flavored water vapor with nicotine when utilized. Unsurprisingly, they had a different take on the proposition.

“When kids are around, yeah, but if it’s older people I don’t see a problem if they’re all smoking,” Carlos Gonzalez said.

In addition to its movement to make Graham County’s parks free from tobacco products, the STARS are also trying to get the county to raise the age of those who can purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

While that issue may not come up too soon, the Safford City Council could see a vote on a resolution to ban tobacco products from its parks in the next month or two.