Police won't target smokers in parks, but park-goers might

October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:50 am
photo - A man smokes at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Thursday, September 26, 2013. The City Council, on Tuesday, voted to ban smoking in all city parks, including trails and open space areas.  (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)
A man smokes at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Thursday, September 26, 2013. The City Council, on Tuesday, voted to ban smoking in all city parks, including trails and open space areas. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette) 

The Tobacco Police are not going to patrol the city's parks looking for smokers, in spite of a law passed Tuesday that makes it illegal to light up in parks, trails and open spaces.

"It's going to be enforced no differently than alcohol," said Gary Feffer, parks advisory board member. "We won't have storm troopers lurking under rocks. That's not going to be the case. Nor is that the case with alcohol."

Park users who see alcohol use going on in the parks call the parks office or the police, he said. He expects the same will happen with smoking.

Signs alerting park users to the no-smoking law should help too, he said. Park officials will spend about $8,000 on no-smoking signs and roll out an intense educational campaign about the law, which slap smokers with a $500 fine or up to 90 days in jail - the same as smoking inside public facilities places where it's forbidden.

"Will it totally stop (smokers)? Absolutely not," Feffer said. "We are hopeful, and believe, that people are trustworthy and acknowledge the importance of laws and adhere to them."

City Council approved the ban Sept. 24 for all city parks, with the exception of two cemeteries and two golf courses, effective immediately. Some councilors questioned the value of adding the law to the books because it's difficult to enforce, and police have more serious lawbreakers to chase.

But the city isn't a maverick in passing a smoking ban. Colorado Springs joins 1,882 cities across the country in banning smoking in public parks. Smoking bans started in earnest the mid-1980s, mostly in restaurants. Then cities began approving smoking bans in public buildings, and in the past five years, have extended them to outside public spaces, said Cynthia Howlett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a lobbying organization that tracks tobacco laws.

Fire danger and public health are the top two reasons for the bans, she said. A growing body of research on the effects of second-hand smoke, even when outdoors, is prompting cities to ban smoking, she said.

No city with a smoking ban in the parks deploys smoking police, Howlett said. Most begin with a public education campaign and simply post signs in the no-smoking areas.

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared that the public will police their smoking ban in parks - a stand echoed by other people who contend smoking bans are enforced by public pressure and fellow residents not shy of giving a smoker in the park the stink eye.

"Typically, if people know about the law, they will comply with the law," Howlett said.

Why pass a law that law-enforcement rarely enforces? Josh Dunn, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs political science associate professor, said that while such laws are largely symbolic, lawmakers are trying to make a statement.

"They are saying, 'we are taking a stand against secondhand smoke,' " Dunn said. "Unless all of the city's problems have disappeared, we don't have the resources to have police out there to write tickets for smoking."

Universities across the country have smoking bans, and results have been mixed, he said. This type of law relies on the community to police and in some case they might not care, he said.

"The fact that we are concerned about fires is the one reason why you might see people help enforce the law," he said. "I think people will still smoke in parks. Who knows - (the city) might give a few tickets to show the law they passed is working."

Boulder officials passed a no-smoking law for the popular Pearl Street Mall downtown, and Boulder police do enforce it. But police did not begin enforcement until April to give people a chance to learn about the law, said Kim Kobel, Boulder police public information officer. In most cases police ask smokers to put out the cigarette, and no ticket is given, she said.

But repeat offenders have been issued tickets, which carry a fine of up to $500, Kobel said. In the first month of enforcement, police issued 35 tickets, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

"We do write tickets," Kobel said. "Now, usually, it is for those who have been contacted multiple times about smoking."

Colorado Springs parks director Karen Palus told councilors this summer that park employees find mounds of cigarette butts in city parks. Those butts present a fire danger, she said. She also said that people smoking in the city parks are making an unhealthy environment for the rest of the parkgoers.

Feffer said the smoking ban, although difficult to enforce, is worth putting it on the books.

"It is less political and more a statement to anybody that is a citizen, or is thinking about being a citizen in Colorado Springs, about the positives on Colorado Springs' quality of life. We make a bold statement at being America the Beautiful, the home of USOC, the City for Champions, maybe, and the fittest city in U.S."

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