When Centennial Park officially opens in September, it may be a smoke-free area, and also depends on how that goes, additional outdoor venues in Helena and Lewis and Clark County may follow suit. During Wednesday’s joint City-County Parks Board conference, members fight with not only the practical turn of making city and county parks tobacco-free, but also with the philosophical and social exposures of doing so. The prohibition on smoking products could involve not only parks, but also golf courses and the exhibitions.

It also could be extended beyond cigs to include chewing tobacco products and also cigars. Already, tobacco smoking habit is banned by administrative new regulation at the Last Chance Splash Waterpark and Pool and by the Helena Brewers internal law at the city-owned baseball stadium.

“The Symphony Under the Stars is tobacco-free, and so is Alive @ Five,” argued Ken Wallace, who sits on the City-County Board of Health. “Last year at Alive @ Five, we wanted a pilot case for tobacco-free, and the Downtown Business Improvement District declared: “Forget that. We’ll make it smoke-free.’ We got very strong positive response for that.”

But City Commissioner Dick Thweatt questioned the justification for the new proposal. He explained that due to the dangers of passive smoking, the case was made for prohibiting smoking in indoor places, but that’s not necessarily the situation outdoors.

“I would like to see some evidence that kind of dispersed smoke is harmful to people’s health,” Thweatt said. “I agree that tobacco is the scourge of public health … but people outside the city are very independent and do what they want to do.”

Wallace said, however, that the issue goes beyond second-hand smoke.

“Our main focus has been on what parks are supposed to be doing and in our view it’s advertising healthy behavior,” Wallace reported. “Smoking cigarette is the contrast of healthy behavior, especially when it’s being modeled to kids. If it was just a number of adults playing golf or at the rodeo riding a steer, I possibly wouldn’t be of a mind to ban it. But I don’t think parks are about that.”