Tyler Henkle said he was speaking as a father and a former smoker of tobacco products.
While attending a recent Seymour City Council meeting, he described three instances in the last two months where he was around secondhand smoke with his children.
The first was at Gaiser Park during the Pig in the Park event on Aug. 20. Henkle said he was playing with his 1-year-old son at a playground when he saw “four or five” people all smoking at a table.
In response, he said he moved to a different playground but was concerned because there were police officers who weren’t enforcing a Seymour ordinance that bans smoking in public places.
The ordinance, passed in 2006 and amended in 2017, banned smoking in public places and “all enclosed facilities within a place of employment.” It also established that smoking is prohibited within 10 feet of any entrance to a public place in Seymour.
When the ordinance was amended in 2017, smoking was banned for gatherings of 50 or more people on public property, and electronic smoking devices were banned anywhere that smoking is prohibited.
Smoking is still permitted in bars and private membership clubs in Seymour.
The next instance Henkle said he was around secondhand smoke was in front of Townhouse Cafe in Seymour when there was a woman smoking near the door.
Poplar Street Restaurant was the final location where Henkle said he experienced secondhand smoke. He said he was sitting on the patio with his family watching live music when a man who was “somewhat inebriated” sat next to him and blew smoke toward his son’s face.
Henkle said he asked the man to not blow the smoke toward his son, and the man got combative.
In all three of those occasions, Henkle said the law was being broken. He talked about those experiences not necessarily to ask the city council to take action but to inform them so they can make their own decisions.
“I’m not here to ask you guys to do anything world-changing today,” he said. “I’m kind of just getting it on your radar in the sense of ‘How can we ensure that people can go to parks and go to restaurants without having to be subjected to other people’s secondhand smoke?’”
Henkle asked the council to look at the ordinance from a perspective of the current time and COVID-19’s impact.
He said both of his children contracted COVID-19 within the first two years of their lives, and that was troubling to him since he doesn’t know what the long-term effects of the respiratory illness are.
“If we’re going to see an entire generation that is more prone to asthma, at least what we can do is give them a city where they’re less likely to be triggered walking through a cloud of smoke going into a restaurant that’s going to exacerbate those symptoms,” Henkle said.
Thinking back to his experience at Pig in the Park, Henkle said he didn’t blame officers for not enforcing the ordinance.
“I don’t blame them because the truth of the matter is that they may not even know that ordinance is on the books,” he said.
Councilman Chad Hubbard made the suggestion that the city could do a media push reminding citizens that the ordinance bans smoking within 10 feet of businesses, which deviates from the state law that only bans smoking within 8 feet.
Seymour Clerk-Treasurer Darrin Boas added to Hubbard’s suggestion and said that would be a good idea so citizens are reminded before Oktoberfest next month.
Seymour Department of Public Works Director Chad Dixon said he would be open to adding signs in public parks to remind people that there is a $50 fine for violating the smoking ordinance.
Seymour Police Department Capt. Troy Munson said he understood Henkle’s concern and enforcing the ordinance wouldn’t be an issue.
“We have no problem stepping up the enforcement on that,” he said. “Generally, if we get out there and write a ticket for it, that generally curbs it somewhat. Like Mr. Henkle said, until something’s done with it, you probably won’t get a lot of it to stop, so I can make sure we can start helping with that.”
Munson said he doesn’t necessarily want to overwhelm city hall with citations, and the police department would look into putting out its own public service announcement through social media.