in Austin, Texas, took steps last Thursday to extend the temporary burn
ban passed there in April into an injunction that would permanently
eliminate smoking in the city’s parks and some of its golf courses.
The Austin City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking City Manager Marc Ott to draft an ordinance that prohibits smoking in the city’s Parks and Recreation sites, which includes 251 parks, public pools and some golf courses. For Ott’s draft to become a law, though, the Parks and Recreation Department must first approve and amend it, and City Council must then vote to adopt the final document.
City park smoking bans are not that unusual (534 cities, 29 of which are in Texas, already have smoke-free parks), but what could distinguish Austin’s ban from those in other cities is it would the first to stem from a burn ban.
Travis County, where Austin is located, has been enduring terrible drought conditions since last year and has been under a burn ban since December 14, 2010, according to the county Fire Marshal’s office. Essentially, the burn ban prohibits any combustible material—fireworks, barbecues, cigarettes and cigars—that could spark a forest fire from being used within the city’s Park and Recreation sites.
The seemingly dubious manner in which a precautionary burn order may evolve into a permanent smoking ban has caught the eye of smoking ban opponents.
According to impactnews.com, a representative from the Austin Golf Advisory Group named Delano Womack addressed the Council on Thursday to explain that cigar smoking often takes place on a golf course. While Council members did not immediately strike golf courses from the resolution, a few agreed that they may fall into some sort of middle ground, and so a note was added that ensured the Golf Advisory Group would be able to look over any wording associated with golf courses in Ott’s draft.
Glynn Loope, executive director of the Cigar Rights of America, added: "While we sympathize with the situation the weather has caused, creating very dry conditions and hence making smoking or a family barbecue hazardous at times in local parks, it is obvious City Council is using the weather as a cloak for the public health agenda.”
Loope says the CRA also will be sending the Council a copy of an editorial by Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health that states there is questionable scientific validity to outdoor smoking bans. The editorial, according to Loope, also states that city park bans like the one Austin is proposing “may actually increase exposure by creating smoke-filled areas near park entrances that cannot be avoided.”