Arlington County officially kicked off its Smoke-Free Parks Initiative at Bon Air Park on Lexington Street on Thursday.
The effort asks park visitors not to smoke within 50 feet of areas where people congregate -- ball fields, pavilions or playgrounds, for instance. Signs asking people to "please" not smoke will be installed in all county parks; many already are in place.
"The community values are what we think will drive the message about being respectful of other users of the park," said Dinesh Tiwari, director of the county Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.
Because of the Dillon Rule, which limits the authority of cities and counties to regulate only what the state allows, Arlington County cannot outright ban smoking in public parks. Further, the state law regulating indoor smoking prohibits localities from enacting any laws that are more stringent than what the General Assembly has approved.
"We're just asking for voluntary cooperation," said Caroline Temmermand, chief of the county Parks and Natural Resources Division. "I think it's going to work out tremendously well."
County Board member Walter Tejada, who has been a driving force behind the initiative since 2008, was ill and unable to attend Thursday's event. County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman praised Tejada as "a champion to rid us of the bane of smoking."
"To the extent possible, it's important for us to do our part to protect people from this health hazard," Zimmerman said.
Aside from public health concerns, the county hopes its initiative will reduce litter and cut back on fire hazards. The initiative also aims promote positive role models, Zimmerman said, adding that the more children see adults smoking, the more likely they are to start smoking.
The county is asking people to take pictures of themselves next to the smoke-free signs and post them on the Parks and Recreation Department's Facebook page. Zimmerman further asked residents to distribute those pictures on neighborhood listserves.
"I would say anything you can do to promote this is good," Zimmerman said. "The more we get the word out across the community, the better."
Kennan Caldwell, the American Cancer Society's Virginia state director of government relations, and Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said Arlington and Northern Virginia are leading the rest of the state when it comes to combating smoking.
"Arlington is leading the way," Hope said. "Hopefully, kids will see it, adults will see it, and they'll realize there are fewer people smoking."
Thursday's event coincides with the 36th annual Great American Smokeout. Originally developed as a day to encourage people to quit smoking, it now gives the American Cancer Society and other groups the opportunity to talk about policy issues, Caldwell said.