In July 2015, the City of Portland banned smoking of all tobacco, e-cigarettes and marijuana products in its parks and natural areas. Prior to implementation, community groups raised concerns that enforcement of the policy could be used by police to harass historically underserved and marginalized communities such as the homeless, youth and people of color.
The CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program led community groups in working with the City of Portland to revise the enforcement plan for the policy. As a result, enforcement was scaled back to an “education only” approach that relies on Park Rangers and other park users to enforce the policy.
Program Design and Evaluation Services (PDES) was contracted by REACH to evaluate the implementation of the policy to assess whether it unfairly affected historically marginalized communities and to identify lessons to share with other jurisdictions.
In partnership with City of Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) and REACH, PDES gathered multiple sources of information, including key informant interviews, observational data in parks, surveys of park users and community partners and data from Park Rangers.
The data were clear:
- The concept of smoke-free parks enjoyed broad support.
- The “education only” approach that excluded police involvement was very popular.
- Surprisingly, survey results suggested that a large proportion of people were unaware of the policy.
- Most people surveyed were not comfortable approaching other park users to enforce the policy.
- Most key informants thought that youth and communities of color were not being unfairly targeted.
- People who were homeless seemed to be bearing the brunt of the enforcement because they are more likely to smoke and parks serve as homes for many of them.
- Some key informants within PP&R called for judicious use of
warnings to address chronic violation of the policy as an adjunct to the
Overall, Portland’s smoke-free park policy was seen as a key piece in the strategy to shift public smoking norms. PDES recommended that PP&R continue working in partnership with REACH to build awareness of the policy and possibly revise the enforcement strategy. Since the case study was done, the REACH communications team has worked the PP&R staff to develop signage and advertisements for the parks.
Smoke and tobacco-free parks