Austin City Council looks to ban smoking in public parks

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Sparked by Texas wildfires and crowding at area festivals, Austin City Council passed a proposal Thursday to ban smoking in all public parks.

Council members passed the proposal by consent during the council’s regular meeting at City Hall yesterday. The plan, co-sponsored by Kathie Tovo, Mike Martinez and Laura Morrison, intends for a citywide ban on smoking at Parks and Recreation sites to be implemented within the next year. The resolution must be approved and amended by the Parks and Recreation Department before it returns to City Council on Dec. 8, where council members will vote whether to adopt the rule.

Tovo said following the September fires in Bastrop and Central Texas, she and others felt it was important to keep public areas as free from fire hazard as possible. She said the Austin City Limits festival also brought about concerns related to preventing smoking in large crowds.

“We are expected to stay in this period of drought throughout this year,” Tovo said. “With drier conditions and without all the rain, the vegetation and trees are very susceptible to fire. A discarded cigarette could risk it all.”

Members of the PARD will also decide on enforcement procedures of the ban, possible phase-out programs of smoking in public areas and exactly what smoking devices will be prohibited by the rule, Tovo said.

Tovo said in addition to easing worries about wildfires in Austin, the ban will create healthier parks for visitors and a healthier habitat for plants and wildlife in the area.

“It will be healthier for everyone,” Tovo said. “We won’t have families at the park exposed to secondhand smoke or litter left behind by smokers.”

Elizabeth Richard, Parks and Recreation Health and Human Services program coordinator, said a large amount of litter from cigarettes is found during park cleanup events.

“This past year we worked with Austin Parks Foundation, Keep Austin Beautiful and Active Life to determine how prevalent cigarette butts were in our parks,” Richard said. “During just five cleanup events we collected almost 38,000 cigarette butts from just 38 different parks.”

Richard said during an additional event, cleanup participants found 3,000 discarded cigarette butts on the UT campus.
Some UT smokers, such as English senior Andrew Layman, said he does his best to keep from littering while enjoying a cigarette and uses ashtrays whenever available. Layman said although he smokes, he does not feel the ban imposes on his personal rights.

“It’s been banned everywhere else because so many people think it’s a public health issue,” Layman said. “I like being able to smoke, but I don’t feel like people should be forced to breathe smoke. That’s infringing on their rights.”

Printed on Friday, October 21, 2011 as: City Council proposes ban on smoking in public parks