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Students aim to make parks smoke free

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A group of Rosemount High School students is trying to clear the air in the city's parks.

The students, members of the student council and SADD, attended Monday night's meeting of the Rosemount Parks and Recreation Commission to propose a policy prohibiting smoking in all city parks.

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The park commission did not take any action Monday. Commissioners asked parks and recreation director Dan Schultz to look into what other cities in the area have done.

Monday's presentation was the end -- or at least the next big step -- for the RHS students who made it. They've been working since October on the information they presented this week. They researched smoking policies in other Dakota County cities and circulated a petition looking for support. They got 367 signatures.

On April 22 -- Earth Day -- the students spent part of their afternoon picking up trash in four Rosemount parks. They filled two large jars with the cigarette butts they found.Those butts, as much as the quality of the air, are the reason the students made their presentation Monday. They worry about the environmental impact of the cigarette filters many smokers leave behind and about children or animals picking them up or eating them.

"The children find the butts on the ground.They're young, so they're sticking the cigarette butts in their mouths saying, 'What's this?'" RHS student Tanner Little said.

Students said they're also concerned about younger children seeing teens smoking in the park and choosing to emulate the activity.

The RHS group is the latest in a series of student groups to approach city officials looking for limits on smoking in parks. Pat Stieg, community health specialist with the Dakota County Public Health Department, has worked with groups in Mendota Heights, West St. Paul, Hastings and Lakeville, among others.

"We found it has been a good experience for them to learn more about the issue and more about how public policy gets made," Stieg said. "I think they enjoy it and appreciate it more after the fact. In Hastings they talked about how, after the city put up signs to let people know about the policy, they felt a sense of pride when they saw the signs."

Stieg met with the RHS students once a month as they prepared their presentation. He was there last Thursday as the students made a final run-through. Standing behind a counter in a science classroom at RHS -- the words "Smoking is icky" scrawled on a whiteboard behind them -- they ran through their presentation. When they were done they got tips on posture, pacing and diction from an RHS speech teacher.

Schultz said the students did well with their performance. He expects the parks commission will make a decision at its next meeting.

Students in several other cities have had success with their presentations. Hastings currently has a no-smoking policy in place in its parks, as does West St. Paul.

Not all groups have done so well, though. The Farmington City Council failed to act earlier this month on its own version of a park smoking ban.

Whatever happens, the students at RHS seem to have enjoyed the experience of putting their presentation together.

"It was fun, and we learned how much cigarettes are at parks," student Jasmine Hunt said. "I'm not that great of a public speaker but I'm trying to help the environment."

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