Evicted smokers trash city park Hospital-area ban brings cigarette litter to Cannon Park

A few signs are hung around Canon Park encouraging visitors to clean up after themselves Thursday May 16, 2013. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)

Grace Beahm

Tell smokers to move on and what do they do? Throw their butts down somewhere else.

Ten weeks have passed since smoking was banned around the Medical University and Roper Hospital campuses, and it's apparent the smoking crowd has moved their habit a few blocks away.

But they're still bringing and leaving a trashy mess.

How bad is it? Cigarette litter is so common in Cannon Park, across Calhoun Street from the hospitals, that even smokers are appalled.

“I used to pick the butts up, but it took up all of my break,” said smoker Reggie Cannon, who works in the Dietary Department at MUSC.

Much worse, Cannon said, is that smokers by the dozens are ignoring the large sand-filled ashtrays that were put in the park.

“Lazy. Don't care,” Cannon said of the inconsiderate puffers who drop their stubs on the ground.

Smoking in all public spaces surrounding the two hospitals was officially banned by City Council on March 1 after medical leaders said they wanted to separate patients from the hazards of secondhand smoke.

The other motivations were that hospitals were trying to curtail what had become routine practices by visitors and staffers: heavy littering with butts and blocked entrances.

Now that the mess has moved to the park, area residents are crying foul and asking MUSC to do something about it.

“We didn't know the beautiful park next door was going to become a smoking lounge,” said Jim Prutting of Halsey Street.

Others have found butts in their yards or are avoiding the park completely.

“I have stopped walking my dog through the (Cannon) park during the day because of the volume of hospital employees generating a cloud of smoke that acts like a barricade to entry,” resident Sally Smith said in an email to MUSC President Ray Greenberg and Roper St. Francis Healthcare CEO David Dunlapy.

Greenberg responded to Smith by email on Thursday, explaining that the Medical University had originally wanted to include nearby neighborhoods in the smoke-free district but that those opposed to any restrictions “fought to minimize the size of the district.”

In a follow-up statement given to The Post and Courier, Greenberg said MUSC plans to meet with city of Charleston officials next week on ways to address the issue.

Among the ideas he raised were to relocate the benches that attract smokers farther from the neighborhood, increase the numbers and appearance of the trash containers, add signs encouraging the use of the trash containers, and having the MUSC grounds crew partner with the city on keeping the park clean.

“We have invited input and suggestions from the neighborhood and continue to encourage them to communicate with us when they have concerns about this or other issues,” Greenberg said.

Meanwhile, in the park Thursday, MUSC staffers who smoke said co-workers and construction workers who are fouling the park need to take responsibility.

“I think the people who are littering should be talked to,” said operating-room surgical nurse Pam Neville.

Another smoker had a more stringent idea: a police sting.

“Put someone out here and charge them with littering,” said Shaune Flournoy of obvious violators. Flournoy works at MUSC but declined to identify which department.

“To me, it's just a lazy mess on people's part,” she said.

Perhaps the best advice, though, came from a note taped to a pole in a child's handwriting: “Don't trow trash on the ground!!!!”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.