Time is now for ban at city beaches, parks

February 12, 2006

Do the math: An estimated 936,675 adults in the city of San Diego and 96,713 youth aged 12-17; a San Diego County smoking rate of 15.1 percent; an average number of cigarettes smoked per day of 14.1 for adults and 7 for those under 18. The total: 2,096,500 cigarettes smoked in San Diego every day. Countywide, the figure is nearly 5 million.

Sadly, a substantial number of the butts from those cigarettes are irresponsibly flicked out of car windows or merely dropped to the ground in disregard of local litter laws, fire safety and plain good citizenship. Even more sadly, many smokers seem to think of our sandy beaches and manicured parks as little more than giant ashtrays.

A growing number of California cities are attempting to do something about this universal problem by enacting smoking bans on beaches, in parks and other places where people, particularly children, commonly gather. In San Diego County, smoking has been banned in parks in El Cajon and National City. Solana Beach was the first city in the state to enact a beach-and-parks smoking ban. Del Mar recently followed suit and may go even further. The Metropolitan Transit System on Thursday moved to adopt a smoke-free policy for bus and trolley stops.

Now it is time for the municipal giant of this county, San Diego, to act.

Councilman Jim Madaffer and Council President Scott Peters last week proposed an ordinance to prohibit smoking on the city's 17 miles of beach and in its 38,918 acres of public parks.

Besides the smoking ban, the ordinance, still in draft form, provides that anyone who discards a cigar or cigarette in anything but a specifically designated container be subject to a still-unspecified monetary fine.

The strongest argument against such an ordinance is the fact that San Diego, like virtually every local government, already has a law against littering, so why not just enforce it. It's a good argument, except for this: litter laws are widely ignored and rarely enforced.

So why would this ordinance be any different? Because the 85 percent of San Diegans who don't smoke would largely enforce it themselves. Have you ever known people to be shy about telling smokers who violate existing bans in restaurants, airplanes or private offices to snuff it? They would do it on the beach and in parks, too.

It's also important to note that a representative of the city's Fire and Life Safety Department attended Madaffer's press conference in support of the ordinance. Lifeguard Lt. Rick Wurtz was quoted as saying that his agency would prefer to have the option to warn violators first, but that lifeguards would not object to issuing citations for smoking, just as they already do for other violations.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of San Diego's beaches and parks to our tourism-based economy, our fun-in-the-sun culture and our sense of who we are as a community. Preserving them, not just for tourists but for ourselves and future San Diegans, is paramount. This ordinance would not be the ultimate panacea. But it would help.

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