With little to no public comment or disagreement, Austin City Council unanimously passed a resolution Oct. 20 that will prepare an ordinance prohibiting smoking in city parks.
Although up to nine people signed up to speak on the resolution, only a few were present and their opinions helped council understand exceptions to which the ordinance should not apply.
Delano Womack, a representative from the Austin Golf Advisory Group, spoke to City Council members about cigar smoking that accompanies some golf games. Some golf courses in Austin would be considered city parks under the ordinance, prompting Womack’s concern.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell and council members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman said any recommendations that City Manager Marc Ott drafts in the ordinance would be vetted through the Golf Advisory Board.
“Enforcing a smoking ban is extremely difficult,” Spelman said. “I don’t know the right means of balancing enforcement costs versus the prohibition benefits. This should be considered in drafting the ordinance.”
Spelman noted that golf courses and special park events, such as Austin City Limits Music Festival, fall into a gray area of smoking prohibition enforcement and there may be special exceptions in the ordinance for those cases.
Leffingwell said the ordinance originated from the burn ban that is currently in place in city parks. The smoking prohibition, as written within the proposed resolution, addresses more of the danger smoking poses to igniting wildfires than the danger it poses as a health risk.
According to the Austin Fire Department, nine out of 10 fires along roadways are caused by cigarettes and at least 25 percent of all wildfires have been caused by cigarettes. Recent area wildfires have burned approximately 35,000 acres of land and destroyed 1,500 homes.
Despite the concentration on wildfire risks, the resolution does address a grant the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department received to address deaths and health risks associated with tobacco use. Also, according to the resolution, 37,717 cigarette butts have been collected from 38 Austin Parks and Recreation Department sites this year.
Ott will draft the ordinance and present it to the Parks and Recreation Board and the Golf Advisory Board for review. Spelman further directed Ott to not mandate any exceptions for the ordinance, but to give Sara Hensley, the Parks and Recreation Department director, enforcement flexibility with events such as ACL or on golf courses.
“This is another big step forward,” Leffingwell said. “It is the biggest step that will be taken [on smoking prohibition], and we got to make sure we are on solid ground.”