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The Fairfax County Park Authority hopes a new campaign will discourage park users from smoking in areas that children frequent.

In the late summer, the Park Authority will begin installing signs designating playgrounds, athletic fields and skate parks as “Tobacco-Free Play Zones.”

“Those will be the facilities we target in the intial phase because they are areas frequented by children,” said Sara Baldwin, deputy director of the Park Authority. Health experts say that secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to still-developing lungs, Baldwin said.

Discarded cigarette butts are also a concern, as they can harm wildlife that ingest them or get washed into streams.

Over time, the effort may expand to other park areas, Baldwin said.

The Tobbacco-Free Play Zones don’t constitute a hard ban on smoking. The county attorney advised the Park Authority that they could not ban outdoor smoking, said Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen.

“We’re very confident and hopeful that people will respect other park visitors as well as just respect the request,” Pedersen said.

There are more than 900 municipalities nationwide that have completely banned smoking in public parks, according to the advocacy group American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Major cities, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia, have banned smoking at public parks and beaches and, this year, the New Jersey General Assembly was considering banning smoking at parks and beaches statewide.

The local initiative came out of the Partnership for a Healthier Fairfax, a group of public and private sector organizations looking at issues that affect overall community health.

In 2011, the Partnership conducted a community health assessment in which 20 percent of county residents identified tobacco use as the most important health issue facing the county.

Baldwin said the Park Authority worked with the Partnership for about a year to research best practices from other jurisdictions for limiting smoking in public parks and to study relevant laws and regulations.

The signs will cost about $15,000 and will be funded by the Live Healthy Fairfax initiative, a program established through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com