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Grand Forks parks may ban chewing tobacco

Grand Forks outdoor parks have areas where smoking is banned, courtesy of Measure 8 in November. Grand Forks Park Board Commissioner Molly Soeby wants to extend that ban to all varieties of tobacco.

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Grand Forks outdoor parks have areas where smoking is banned, courtesy of Measure 8 in November. Grand Forks Park Board Commissioner Molly Soeby wants to extend that ban to all varieties of tobacco.

Commissioner Jay Panzer responded to Soeby's proposal at Tuesday's board meeting with a big grin and the words: "This is a ginormous can of worms."

After flashing a smile acknowledging Panzer's assessment, Soeby argued that chewing tobacco is damaging because it's an unhealthy habit in what should be a healthy environment.

"We look at parks as a way to make a community healthier," she said. "There's no way tobacco makes us healthier. Our community is becoming more healthy and it realizes what a problem tobacco is."

Her tobacco-free bid presented to the other four commissioners Tuesday was met with a lukewarm response. However, they didn't turn her down. Instead, they agreed to conduct a survey of the users of their outdoor facilities.

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"We need to make sure that we sample those people who use our facilities," said Greg LaDouceur, specifying golfers and softball players, a demographic that might be more likely to use smokeless tobacco.

Fellow Commissioner Tim Skarperud also had reservations. "Are we here to dictate what people can and can't do?" he asked. "I want the healthiest place possible, but how far do we go as elected officials?

"I don't know if I want to go beyond the state law."

LaDouceur also wondered how smokeless tobacco use could be enforced. Soeby responded that it will be similar to what happens when people don't pick up after their pets. "The community will do the enforcement," she said.

Soeby said she will use experts in seeking a balanced slate of local residents to take a survey. She said she will be OK if she doesn't get a smokeless ban, but . . .

"I'll be back next year," she said. "The times are a-changing."

Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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