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Research Paves Way for Smoking Restrictions in Bridgeport Parks

Intention is to make Bridgeport parks safer, healthier for the public

Professor Anna Greer and her students are working to clean up Bridgeport parks such as the one pictured here, littered with cigarette butts.

Anna E. Greer, associate professor of exercise science in the College of Health Professions, along with several of her students, celebrated a long-awaited victory when Bridgeport’s City Council voted to ban smoking on beaches, playgrounds and sports fields in all Bridgeport parks.

The council’s decision in October followed a campaign led by Greer’s 2014 Health Promotion Planning and Evaluation class.

Greer has established close ties with the city through her research on Bridgeport’s public parks, playgrounds and trails, and her affiliation with Sacred Heart’s Center for Community Health and Wellness, which collaborates with community partners to address unmet health needs. Many students in the College of Health Professions, across majors and classes, have been instrumental in helping Greer carry out her studies.

“My area of expertise is policy and environmental supports for active living. I’ve been focusing here in Bridgeport on promoting physical activity through parks and outdoor spaces,” says Greer, adding that many city residents face obstacles in their efforts to engage in regular physical activity. “My work is around how to make that easier.”

Putting all the pieces for the smoking ban in place took a year-and-a-half of hard work. The effort began in the summer of 2013, when Greer worked with Bridgeport residents, using the “Community Stakeholder Park Audit tool,” to assess the condition of the city’s neighborhood parks. Her goal was to determine whether the best-kept parks were in neighborhoods with the highest incomes, and whether the process of auditing the parks would empower people to use them more. Although there was a perception that poorly kept parks were concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, the research revealed that the best and worst parks “were equitably distributed” across the city, Greer says. The study also indicated that the audit did, in fact, raise interest in the parks.

“One of the findings was that there were cigarette butts all over the parks, and people were concerned because their kids and pets were putting them in their mouths,” she says. “Out of that grew another project in the spring of 2014. As a class, we initiated this effort to have a smoking ban in Bridgeport parks.” The project gave students a perfect opportunity to apply lessons in research and health advocacy outside the classroom to help the community.

Fifteen students in the class mobilized to create an online petition and Facebook page, taking pictures and researching information about second-hand smoke. They even collected hundreds of cigarette butts at the parks to present as a visual aid at public hearings. Council member Susan Brannelly became a key ally in helping the students navigate the lengthy approval process and regroup after setbacks.

Many of those studentshave since graduated, but five of them stayed involved after returning to Sacred Heart to pursue master’s degrees in exercise science and nutrition. Two of them are from Bridgeport and spoke before the City Council vote in support of the smoking ban.

Although the ban does not restrict smoking throughout the parks, as the class had sought, the students were satisfied with the final outcome as a step in the right direction. Notes Greer, “There had to be some compromise.”

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Student Brianna Castrogivanni addresses the Bridgeport City Council about the smoking ban.