Cities have been moving away from tolerating smoking in public places for a few decades; proposals to ban smoking in city parks are now part of that trend. Hundreds of cities in the United States have banned smoking in their outdoor spaces. We support the council’s decision to make Austin one of them.
The council’s vote Thursday was a preliminary one. There are a couple of details to be settled, including an exemption that would allow smoking on city-owned golf courses, but the ban is expected to pass when the council votes again on the proposal.
Council Members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and Kathie Tovo proposed the ordinance, which bans smoking in Austin’s parks, at city pools and on the city’s nature trails. Defy the ban and you might face a fine up to $2,000.
We should say “permanently bans” smoking. Smoking has been temporarily banned since April, when the city prohibited smoking as part of a burn ban enacted in response to this year’s severe drought. Now, when that burn ban eventually is lifted, smoking will remain a no-no.
The danger of fire prompted the temporary burn ban, and is one obvious reason for making the smoking ban permanent. Ninety percent of fires along Austin’s roads are caused by cigarettes, the Austin Fire Department says, and cigarettes cause a quarter of all wildfires.
Litter was also a major factor. Smokers leave behind almost 40,000 cigarette butts in our parks each year, according to the city’s parks department. Forty thousand! That’s a lot of trash — tiny pieces of chemical-laden trash that take up to a decade to decompose — for someone to pick up and carry away.
And, of course, smoking is a well-known health hazard, responsible for more deaths each year than a litany of dozens of other factors. Areas dedicated to family play, exercise, recreation and quiet contemplation should be free of smoke.
Thankfully, the proposal’s been free of the controversy the city’s proposal to ban smoking in bars and clubs generated in 2005, and that proposal’s subsequent referendum and lawsuit. The reaction from smokers has been muted. Smokers sometimes talk about their right to smoke, but the right to breathe smoke-free air is greater. Some rights may be natural and inviolable; smoking is not one of them.
The council didn’t ban smoking entirely. Golfers will still be allowed to light up a stogie on city-owned golf courses, and some exceptions allowing temporary designated smoking areas for some special events — the Austin City Limits Music Festival, for example, or a film shoot on city land — will be made.
Smoking is a hazard and an annoyance. We welcome the fewer bits of litter and the breath of fresher air the ban on smoking in parks will provide.