Irvine bans smoking in parks
A growing number of California towns snuff out the use of tobacco outdoors.
By SONYA SMITH and GREG HARDESTY
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
IRVINE – The City Council on Tuesday night took the first step to ban smoking in city parks, including the Great Park – becoming the latest and largest Orange County city to crack down on lighting up outdoors.
The ordinance will require a second, affirming vote in two weeks to make Irvine the third city in Orange County to ban smoking in city-owned parks and recreational cities.
Laguna Hills and Seal Beach approved bans on smoking in parks in 2005, but Irvine's will affect far more people because of its 1,347-acre Great Park, which will begin taking shape this summer with the launch of a passenger-carrying helium balloon.
Smoking already is banned at city-owned beaches in San Clemente, Laguna, Newport and Huntington. Mission Viejo considered banning smoking in parks, but a proposal stalled.
"This is not about smoking; this is about public health and safety, and costs in maintaining our parks," Councilman Larry Agran said.
Irvine will spend $20,000 to put up warning signs in its 50 community and neighborhoods parks, open-space preserves and trails, and other areas used for public park or recreational purposes.
The ban would not include parks or recreational facilities owned by homeowners associations, but city officials hope that associations will adopt their own bans.
A first violation of Irvine's new ordinance will be punishable by a $100 fine; a second violation$200, and a third $500.
Irvine's ordinance was recommended for council approval by the Great Park Corp. Board in July. The new policy is intended to affirm the Great Park's commitment to restoring and protecting the environment, Great Park board members said.
With smoking banned, the Great Park joins other smoke-free parks such as San Diego's Balboa Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. New York's Central Park remains open for smokers.
Although Irvine's unanimous decision makes the city a torchbearer in a growing statewide movement to restrict outdoor smoking, other California cities have gone further.
Calabasas, in northern Los Angeles County, made history last March when it banned smoking in all public areas, including sidewalks. Belmont, between San Francisco and San Jose in San Mateo County, is poised to go even further by banning smoking citywide, except in detached, single-family houses.
No one is ready to predict that Irvine or another Orange County city will adopt similarly sweeping bans, but county and state officials say the movement is gaining momentum.
"This seems like it's going to be a trend for years to come," said Herm Perlmutter, program supervisor for Orange County's Tobacco Use Prevention Program. More than 50 cities statewide have adopted bans on smoking in parks, he said.
Colleen Stevens, a program specialist with the California Tobacco Control Program, said the issue has been embraced at the local level.
"It's really taken off," she said.
Pending state bills call for fining motorists for smoking in a car with a minor, and for prohibiting smoking on a state beach or in a state park.
Supporters of such regulations primarily cite research about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
In California, secondhand smoke kills 4,700 people every year, according to a 2005 report by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the state's Air Resources Board. A 2006 U.S. surgeon general report determined that there are no safe exposure levels to secondhand smoke.
State law already prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a public playground, tot lot or sandbox area, as well as in numerous indoor locations and near government buildings.
Critics of such regulations say the dangers of secondhand smoke outdoors have been greatly exaggerated.
"When you walk past a group of kids smoking (marijuana) behind a bush, you don't get stoned," said Robert Best, California coordinator for the Smokers Club Inc., a nationwide group devoted to smokers rights. "And you don't get cancer walking by a person smoking outside."
Best accused Irvine and other cities that are adopting restrictions on outdoor smoking of "near hysteria" concerning the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.
Outdoor smoking bans in Orange County
Anaheim: Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Disneyland Resort (except designated areas)
Huntington Beach: Beach, pier, pier plaza
Irvine: Public parks and recreational facilities (pending final vote)
Laguna Beach: Public beaches
Laguna Hills: Public parks, sports arenas, convention halls, restaurants (including outdoor patios), within 20 feet of an outdoor dining or patio area
Laguna Niguel: Skateboard park
Laguna Woods: Outdoor dining areas, unenclosed swimming pools in multifamily residences, sites of public events
Lake Forest: Skateboard park
Los Alamitos: Dog exercise and training areas
Newport Beach: Beaches, piers, public floats
San Clemente: City beaches, pier
Seal Beach: Beaches, parks, pier
Sources: County of Orange Tobacco Use Prevention Program; California's Clean Air Project
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