Young Lungs at Play: Outdoor Tobacco-Free Play Spaces
Many families enjoy spending time with their children at local playgrounds, parks and beaches in the Erie area. However, they may not realize that their children may be exposed to hundreds of toxic and hazardous substances, and may be breathing in cancer-causing smoke if they are playing in areas that are not tobacco-free.
We have an opportunity in our community to reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke in public play areas. Young Lungs at Play (YLAP), a state-wide initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, promotes adopting outdoor tobacco-free policies in places such as parks, zoos, athletic fields, playgrounds, and beaches. The initiative is being implemented locally by the Northwest Pennsylvania Tobacco Control Program.
Over 250 organizations and communities throughout Pennsylvania have already adopted an outdoor tobacco-free policy. In fact, Summit Township was one of the first communities in Erie County to adopt Young Lungs at Play. Tom Church, Director of Parks and Recreation of Summit Township, supports this program stating, “Since we have posted the Young Lungs at Play signs, we have had supportive feedback from the community and it seems to have had a positive influence on our park. And we would like to thank the Erie County Tobacco Program for bringing this initiative to our attention and assisting us in implementing this at no cost to our residents.”
Secondhand smoke is an important health concern for our community, since an estimated 50,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer and heart disease attributable to secondhand smoke exposure. In addition, secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated one million illnesses in children each year. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies tobacco smoke as a Class A carcinogen and the Surgeon General reports that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. It is a pollutant that causes serious illness in adults and children.
When children see adults using tobacco, they think that using tobacco is safe and acceptable. This contributes to the over 16,000 Pennsylvania youth who become new daily smokers every year. Studies show that smoke-free play spaces reduce the number of children who will try tobacco.
Outdoor tobacco use has an environmental impact as well. Cigarettes butts are one of the most littered items in the world. Tobacco waste is costly to clean up and has potential to poison our waterways, animals and people. Participating in Young Lungs at Play is an opportunity for organizations to promote the overall health of our community.
The next time you visit one of your local playgrounds or recreational fields, it is our hope at the Erie County Department of Health that you will have a more enjoyable experience—one without cigarette butts littering the ground or the smell of tobacco smoke in the air. We invite all Erie County communities to join the Young Lungs at Play Program. Please contact the Northwest Pennsylvania Tobacco Control Program at (814) 451-7857 for more information.
This information is distributed by Erie County Department of Health, 606 W. 2nd Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-451-6700, www.ecdh.org.
Joy Henry, Tobacco Program Coordinator
NWPA Tobacco Control Program
Erie County Department of Health