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Local News

Wilmington parks become tobacco free thanks to teen-led initiative

Elizabeth Palkoska and Cortney Eaker hold a tobacco free park sign moments after the Wilmington City Council passed the tobacco free park ordinance.
Elizabeth Palkoska and Cortney Eaker hold a tobacco free park sign moments after the Wilmington City Council passed the tobacco free park ordinance.

WILMINGTON – Most city parks in Wilmington now are entirely tobacco-free, thanks to two local high school students’ advocacy and a supportive city council.

Members of the council earlier this month unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibits the use of all tobacco products, including, but not limited to, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco, according to a Will County Health Department news release.

Parks that will be 100 percent tobacco-free include Northcrest, Veterans Memorial and Brookside.

Under the new ordinance, the north and south parks within the Wilmington Island Park District will not be completely tobacco free, but both parks will have tobacco-free zones, including athletic fields, restrooms, playgrounds and concession and spectator areas, according to the release.

Two Wilmington High School students – including Elizabeth Palkoska, 18 – have for some time been advocating for tobacco-free parks. They observed smokers’ park activity, conducted surveys and presented findings several times to the council, Palkoska said.

“We thought this would be the best thing for the community,” she said. “I know smokers in Wilmington aren’t happy with it, but this wasn’t for them. We surveyed youth and they said they wanted to see a tobacco-free park.”

City Administrator Tony Graf said Monday the students were key to the ordinance’s passage.

At one meeting, the teenagers even brought to the council a bag filled with used cigarette butts found within various parks.

“The fact that this will cut back on litter, too ... that really resonated with aldermen,” Graf said. “It really came down to the presentations and the information they provided. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

The students were representing Reality Illinois, an anti-tobacco campaign focused on policy change, secondhand smoke and tobacco industry manipulation. The campaign was created by the Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments.

Will County Health Department Executive Director John Cicero said in the news release the teens deserve credit for their diligence and advocacy.

“They were involved every step of the way. The health department congratulates them, the city council and everyone who has helped make this ordinance reality. Wilmington is now a healthier community,” Cicero said.

According to the 2014 Illinois Youth Survey, one in three Wilmington High School seniors used tobacco in the month preceding the survey. According to Wilmington’s Reality Illinois data, the average age for a first-time user is 13.5 years.

Wilmington is the 20th Will County municipality with some type of smoke-free or tobacco-free park policy in place, according to the news release.

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