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Smoking Continues In San Diego Parks Despite Ban


The City of San Diego passed a smoking ban in city parks and on beaches in 2006, are people following the law? A local community group, concerned with the amount of cigarette litter on the ground in city parks organized a clean up and found more than 17,000 butts a month. We discuss the smoking ban, who's smoking and the harms of second-hand smoke.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The City of San Diego banned cigarette smoking at beaches, parks and open spaces more than three years ago. That ban is apparently being enforced well at city beaches but parks are another story. The number of cigarette butts still being cleaned from the parks indicate that there's still a lot of smoking going on. We'll explore what's holding up enforcement of the ordinance in San Diego as well as efforts to expand smoking bans in the city and throughout San Diego County. I’d like to welcome my guest. Juan Andrade is community organizer with SAY San Diego, and San Diego Live and Play Smoke Free Project. Juan, welcome to These Days.

JUAN ANDRADE (Community Organizer): Good morning. Thank you very much for the invitation.

CAVANAUGH: And Debra Kelly is Director of Advocacy and Health Policy for the American Lung Association. Debra, welcome.

DEBRA KELLY (Director of Advocacy and Health Policy, American Lung Association): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you see people smoking in San Diego parks? If you would, tell us about it or perhaps you think since cigarettes are legal people should be able to smoke out of doors. Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. So, Juan, volunteers from your organization have been conducting a series of clean-ups at city parks to evaluate the success of the smoking ban. So what have you found?

ANDRADE: Well, we started our evaluation in 2007. We started at the city. We cleaned ten parks on three consecutive months and we found a lot of cigarette butts. We realized that there was no compliance. To be more fair with the evaluation, we decided to extend that in 2008 to the whole city of San Diego. So compliance actually went – it’s not there. We saw an increase of 18% approximately. From 2008, we picked up about 43,000 cigarette butts and then in 2009 we cleaned the same parks, the same areas, pretty much the same amount of volunteers, and we picked up about 50,000-plus cigarette butts so there’s a problem with…

CAVANAUGH: So are there some parks that have less compliance than others?

ANDRADE: Definitely. We actually just met with Community Relation officers from the Northern, Western and Balboa Park, Mid-city Divisions to share that information from trouble parks. We’ve identified about 10 parks from the 24 where there’s like bad, bad, bad, not compliance at all.

CAVANAUGH: A couple of them Balboa Park?

ANDRADE: Balboa Park was one of them. We actually found 700 cigarette butts. One of the volunteers just concentrate on one and only one bench that he got 700 butts from one bench.

CAVANAUGH: One bench.

ANDRADE: Another park was Colina del Sol Park. We got about 2500 cigarette butts around the Tot Lot on wooden, you know, the 15…

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

ANDRADE: …feet…


ANDRADE: …of the Tot Lot, so it’s very sad, you know, that we have these environmental problem…


ANDRADE: …not only the environmental problem, it’s the secondhand smoke that comes along with it.

CAVANAUGH: And, Debra, let me ask you, does this lack of compliance, does it surprise you?

KELLY: Well, it doesn’t completely surprise me. The compliance is excellent at the beach and that’s partly because there are lifeguards there and enforcing the law. And there are nonsmokers all over the place who will ask people to put their cigarettes out. I think in the open spaces in the parks it is a little bit different, especially in some of the inner city areas because, you know, it’s a little bit like speeding laws. People will, you know, break the law if they feel like they’re not going to get caught, and so we do have our work cut out for us. You know, overall, I’m really glad that we have the laws. I think it’s just, you know, it’s going to be a matter of educating people, empowering nonsmokers to speak up and maybe doing some targeted enforcement. But I think most of all for people who smoke to take responsibility and to respect the parks and the people who frequent those parks.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know the American Lung Association does a lot of research into actually who is smoking today. Can you break that down for us and how the average smoker or the average people who smoke are different than maybe they were 10, 20 years ago?

KELLY: Yeah, you know, let’s say 20 years ago, about 25% of all adult Californians smoked. Today, that figure’s dropped to 13.8%, so that’s the good news. Now the challenging part of that, it’s – those numbers are really a mosaic. When you look at different populations, the rates are much higher. For example, if you look at the homeless people who tend to hang out in parks, people with alcohol problems, substance abuse, mental health diagnoses, all of those groups have smoking rates that are about 80%. So…


KELLY: 80%, yeah. And, you know, and smoking can be associated with a lot of other illegal activities and one of the things that Juan is talking about, you know, when you see a lot of cigarette butts in a certain park, that’s really a symptom that there’s probably a lot more illegal activity taking place as well.

CAVANAUGH: Really? Okay, so how does San Diego County compare to California in general? Do we – Are we about at that 13% as well?

KELLY: Yeah, we pretty much mirror the state smoking rate.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, I invited people to call at 1-888-895-5727, and, yes, indeed, people are calling. Let’s take a call from Robert in Pacific Beach. Good morning, Robert, and welcome to These Days.

ROBERT (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hello.


ROBERT: Thank you for taking my call. I’m calling – I’ve lived in the beach area for about 10 years and before the smoking ban went into effect, cigarettes were everywhere and it was a disaster. Since the smoking ban has been in effect, it’s gotten a lot better but we always do beach cleanups and see cigarette butts even as much as last week, all over the place and all over the beach. And when we’re out on the beach and doing things, we see people smoking periodically but one thing I’ve always noticed is when I see the fire – or, the lifeguards enforce the smoking ban, but it just doesn’t seem like the – no tickets are ever being given. I always see it and I’ve never seen a ticket, and I think if we started to enforce it a little bit more I think we’d get rid of the people who pretend like they don’t know what the rules are and just keep doing it and trying to hide and so…

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Gotcha.

ROBERT: …I’d just like to know what, you know, what or how would we monitor that to see if any improvement could be done?

CAVANAUGH: Right. Thank you, Robert. Thank you for the call. I want to just go to you first, Debra, because you made the point that smoking – the nonsmoking ordinance is being enforced better on the beaches than it is in the parks and yet Robert says, you know, he’s still seeing a lot of butts on the beaches.

KELLY: Well, one thing to keep in mind is that all of the cigarette butts on our streets and so forth go into the storm drainage system and, unfortunately, they land up on the beach. And so, you know, we can all look around and see just the multitudes of cigarette butts on the streets so until we really deal with the issue of people tossing their cigarette butts on the ground, treating the world as their ashtray, you know, we will always see some cigarette butts on the beach, unfortunately.

CAVANAUGH: And are people getting tickets for smoking either on the beach or in the parks?

ANDRADE: Right, actually I just requested that data from the last couple of years to the City of San Diego but I have some data from 2008 and they were given, in 2007-2008, about 184 tickets. What I have here is that 99% or 90% were given at the beach area.


ANDRADE: Again, the lifeguards have the power to cite and I think, like the caller was saying, it’s gotten better but still we need more enforcement. Actually, that was one of the reasons why we met with the police department because we wanted to brainstorm and find ways and let them know there’s not only the illegal smoking but also another illegal activities, as Debbie was saying, so there’s definitely a need of enforcement. And that comes from – and everyone who attends the park from everyone who works at the park and, of course, the police, they certainly – they need to start giving citations to improve. We are also working or want to work with the police that work with the homeless. One of the evaluation observation is that parks with a lot of littering have that in common. There are very local, urban areas, there are a lot of homeless around, and we’re working with the HOT team, which they work with the homeless to start educating them. We actually, on some of the cleanups, we have a few homeless helping.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Juan Andrade. He’s community organizer with SAY San Diego, and San Diego Live and Play Smoke Free Project. And Debra Kelly is Director of Advocacy and Health Policy for the American Lung Association, and we’re talking about the ban on cigarette smoking at San Diego parks, beaches, open spaces. It happened more than 3 years ago and there’s evidence from the number of butts at least in some San Diego parks that those ordinances are not being followed too strictly. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I want to talk with you, if I may, Juan, about signage and how the signage – how those signs are placed in various parks to tell people that they’re not supposed to smoke there. Does that differ from park to park, and does that have any impact on the number of cigarette butts that you found?

ANDRADE: Definitely, we – One part of the evaluation was to look up the signage and we found the most cigarette butts we found, the areas where – the open areas, benches and field. Somehow, people who play baseball, soccer, whatever sport, baseball, too, so we have an amazing amount of cigarette butts in all these areas and very little amount of signage posted by the Park & Recreation. They did a great job posting around the perimeter of the park and the parking lots, yet we need more signage.

CAVANAUGH: Signs in the park itself.

ANDRADE: In the places where we’re finding the most cigarette butts.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s take another call. Christian is calling us from North Park. Good morning, Christian. Welcome to These Days. Hi, Christian, are you there?

CHRISTIAN (Caller, North Park): Yes, I am. Hi.


CHRISTIAN: …off of speaker phone. There we go. Hi. Anyway, I’m calling from North Park and I play a lot of disc golf at the Morley Field disc golf course. And it has been illegal to smoke cigarettes there since the rule was in effect and yet no one seems to care and there is – I have seen no enforcement whatsoever. Now a person was just speaking of signage just a moment ago…


CHRISTIAN: Someone’s calling me, I’m ignoring them.

CAVANAUGH: Sure. Okay.

CHRISTIAN: Anyway, there – I have also noticed there are no (audio dropout) about tobacco at Morley Field. There are signs about alcohol but none about marijuana or tobacco. I was a marijuana smoker for 30 years. I no longer am. I always gave it up as kind of a (audio dropout) a kind of, okay, if I can smoke mine, I’ll let you smoke yours kind of thing there at the golf course.


CHRISTIAN: But now I don’t have that chip to play and so I kind of tell people just smoke downwind. And then I tell them, you know, it is illegal, that sort of thing. But I have seen police enforcing the anti-marijuana laws at the disc golf course because it’s notorious kind of, and shouldn’t be but it is. And…

CAVANAUGH: And not the smoking.

CHRISTIAN: Yes, about the tobacco and the marijuana smoking, a lot of people do it out there and I see police cars literally cruising the course real slowly and shaking people down and that sort of thing but you can – there’ll be somebody smoking a cigarette right next to them and they won’t get harassed.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Christian, for that call. And I want to go to Debra on this because one of our other callers who couldn’t stay on the line asked this question: Why do we even create ordinances if we can’t enforce them? And I want to talk to you about enforcement. You just heard our caller say that, you know, the police apparently are not doing this, at least with his observation of this. So talk to me about enforcement.

KELLY: Well, you know, enforcement, obviously, is a challenge. We are working with the police now to get them to do a better job. I, you know, I agree with the caller’s observations about what can happen. The police tell us that, you know, it takes two hours to do a citation but for us, really, and I think the caller’s right, once they start citing people, once people understand that there are consequences for breaking the law, that will become a deterrent. And so I, you know, I think in retrospect these types of laws like drunk driving laws and speeding laws and so forth, by their very nature are difficult to enforce because we don’t have police stationed behind every tree in the park to catch people smoking. So, you know, we do have to rely on people’s self-responsibility, on empowering nonsmokers to speak up, educating people about the law. But I think overall, the law has clearly had a beneficial effect. I mean, I’m glad – it’s not a perfect law. Enforcement and compliance are not perfect but I, you know, just as a person who goes to parks, I’m really glad that the laws are there because I have seen a big improvement. We have a long ways to go but we also have come a long ways.

CAVANAUGH: Just one more question about this citing people. If, indeed, they would get a ticket, what would that ticket cost them?

KELLY: Well, as I recall, it would cost them about $100.00. Now a lot of times what happens is the police will prefer to give out a warning ticket. I will say, though, a sheriff’s captain in Imperial Beach decided to have a crackdown when that community had implemented their smoke free beaches and parks law, and the sheriffs went out and began citing very aggressively and it really turned that situation around. And so it can be an investment in enforcement time that will – a short term investment that will yield long term returns.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue to talk about the compliance with the City of San Diego’s nonsmoking ordinances at beaches, parks and open spaces, and talk about efforts to expand smoking bans in the city and throughout San Diego County. You are listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Debra Kelly, Director of Advocacy and Health Policy for the American Lung Association, and Juan Andrade, who’s a community organizer with SAY San Diego, and San Diego Live and Play Smoke Free Project. Part of San Diego Live and Play Smoke Free Project was a project to collect butts at San Diego’s supposedly smoke-free parks and there were a lot of cigarette butts found at those park cleanups. We’re talking about the way that the cigarette smoking ban is enforced in San Diego parks. And on the line right now is a person who says he’s a San Diego police officer and he wants to tell us why the ordinance is not enforced or not often enforced at San Diego parks. And good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER (San Diego Police Department): Morning.

CAVANAUGH: So why not – why is it not enforced?

SPEAKER: We don’t have the manpower to do it. It’s a bogus ticket, to be honest with you. You can smoke weed and get a $65.00 ticket. Cigarettes are at the bottom of the mill.

CAVANAUGH: Well, one of the things that we’ve been talking about here is that the ordinance is enforced by lifeguards on the beaches so what is the difference in the parks?

SPEAKER: We don’t have people patrolling the parks. We don’t have enough officers to – even to patrol the streets, you know, to get calls. I mean, we’re looking at 100 backed up calls every single day. You know, we have reserve officers, being retired people that are 70 years old, going out and doing cases because we don’t have the manpower to even enforce that and to do regular crime reports, let alone write citations for cigarettes.

CAVANAUGH: Let me just ask you one last question. Have you ever or have you ever seen any of your brother police officers and women police officers write out a ticket for anyone who was seen smoking in an open space or a park in San Diego?

SPEAKER: No. The only time that I’ve ever seen it is when I wrote one when somebody threw a lit cigarette butt out down in the Gaslamp District.


SPEAKER: Other than that, no. It just – There’s other bigger things that are going on. Unfortunately, we just can’t supply the force to do it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I really do appreciate your calling in. Thank you so much. It is a very needed voice there. So let me go to you, Juan. Here we hear from a police officer who says, you know, we just don’t have the people. Here’s the explanation for all those cigarette butts you’ve been finding, we just simply don’t have the resources to enforce this ordinance. So what are the other options that exist for people to enforce, in some way, the smoke ban in San Diego parks?

ANDRADE: Right. Well, part of San Diego Live and Play Smoke Free Project is social change. We understand, we perfectly understand, that the city is going through budget problems and the police is not enough just for regular other most important issues. We know that we are doing our part by educating people and we will continue working on that. This has to come from the community where responsible smokers and not-smokers were responsible, both sides, to comply with any kind of law that we have in place. So education, education, education. I think that as long as we continue to work at sharing – When we were cleaning parks, I have a crew of kids, I have about 150 youth group – 150 kids from youth groups coming and once we collected the cigarette butts, we will go and talk to the homeless, we will go and talk to regular people smoking, we will talk and talk to fathers and mothers smoking at the Tot Lot with their babies right in the Tot Lot, and just explain, hey, you know, we’re cleaning the parks, we have a problem with littering, please, it’s illegal to smoke in the park. And kids, you know, will say it was a great experience. Kids learn it’s not only the prevention part of it but also the education at the site when we’re cleaning – when we’re having these clean-ups.

CAVANAUGH: And, Debra, there must be a right way and a wrong way to advise people that it’s illegal to smoke where they happen to be smoking at that moment. Do you have any tips on how to do that in a way that doesn’t confront people unnecessarily but also gets the message across.

KELLY: Yeah, I do. I, you know, I will begin by saying that you have to have situational awareness. You know, you really – if your instincts are telling you that that person might be dangerous, if you’re looking at maybe, you know, gang members, some – a situation like that, you know, it’s just better not to approach. It’s better to inform park staff or, you know, call the police. The police aren’t going to respond to those kind of calls. But, you know, typically what I do, I think it’s good to give the benefit of the doubt to a person and say, you know, you probably aren’t aware that this park is smoke free and you’re not supposed to be smoking here. And I will tell them, you know, the secondhand smoke does bother me and it’s, you know, the cigarette butts are bad for the park and kids can get poisoned when they eat them and so forth. So, you know, I would appreciate it if you would put out your cigarette. So, you know, that’s really all you can do and, you know, it is true that citizens will become the enforcer. You know, I – if I’m in a restaurant – I dance sometimes and go into bars. I’m a swing dancer, by the way…


KELLY: …not another type of dancer. Anyway, but I will say if some hapless person, often a tourist from outside of California, lights up, you know, it’s just within seconds that probably ten people are asking that person to put out their cigarette. So, you know, we’re moving towards that kind of situation but it’ll take awhile and, you know, we’ll get there.

ANDRADE: I want to add something. When while doing the park cleanups, we actually had from those people that we talk and they were smoking, 80% of them, they were very nice, they understood. They saw the bags full of cigarette butts, they apologized and put it out. So there’s definitely hope. I think that the majority of the smokers, they are, you know, they’re very intelligent. They know that that’s not right. Regardless, there are these bad habits. About 20% of these people, they were very bitter about it. They were saying why, you know, they should put ashtrays instead of laws and things like that. They didn’t see the big picture of…


ANDRADE: …the problem. But, you know, kudos to those…

CAVANAUGH: So it’s a mixed bag. Let’s take another call. Suzanne is calling us from Hillcrest. Good morning, Suzanne. Welcome to These Days. Suzanne, are you on the line? Okay, we’ll check back in with Suzanne because she apparently had an incident with trying to figure out how to tell smokers to stop smoking in Balboa Park. I want to know, you know, Debra, you – the American Lung Association compiled a report, “The State of Tobacco Control 2009,” and even though San Diego is in the forefront of a lot of efforts to curtail public smoking, we didn’t really get very good grades.

KELLY: Well, we didn’t get good grades because the grading scale is very, very high. It’s basically – the reason we didn’t get good grades is because there’s a whole section on smoke free multi-unit housing, really protecting people who live in apartments, condominiums, from drifting secondhand smoke. You know, that’s very leading edge, if not bleeding edge, policy that a lot of communities just aren’t ready to tackle so that was a huge factor. I think the other issue for us was really tobacco retail licensure and, you know, basically asking local merchants to pay a fee, get a license and have stronger penalties if they sell tobacco to kids. And so San Diego’s pretty conservative. There are a lot of communities that feel that’s not friendly to businesses. So those were the two biggest factors why we didn’t get a good grade. It’s just because the whole purpose of the report card is to push people towards the best possible policies that can be implemented that will protect the most people in the state.


KELLY: So – But we are, you know, I – To be fair to San Diego, we are definitely a leader in this county. Every community except for Santee, for example, has made its beaches and parks smoke free, so we’re out there in front, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Scott’s calling us from Solana Beach. Good morning, Scott, and welcome to These Days.

SCOTT (Caller, Solana Beach): Hi. Thank you very much for taking my call. I just want to say, first of all, that I’m opposed to smoking. I think it’s a terrible habit. I wish everybody would stop cigarette smoking. I’m also very opposed to litter. But I think these are very – two different issues and I think it’s a little disingenuous for a public health organization to be arguing against tobacco on a litter platform. I, myself, I do not smoke cigarettes but I enjoy an occasional cigar, once every three months, and I would love to be able to do this on the beach, away from people. I understand that smoke can bother people and I don’t think people should smoke in crowded public areas. However, I do feel that it is infringing on our person freedoms to be able to take this choice away in all these public areas on the grounds of controlling litter when I think it’s just really a step towards banning tobacco altogether as a public health concern. There are…

CAVANAUGH: Well, Scott, thank you. Let me get reaction to that. And thank you so much for the call. Juan, when you confronted people who were bitter, as you say, about being confronted about smoking, did you hear some of this? You know, that this is a legal thing for people to do, not necessarily smoking in parks but smoking is legal, and maybe they just didn’t want to be hassled.

ANDRADE: Well, there’s always that response about who has a right, right, or of like taking away their right to smoke. And I don’t understand the concept of these people when they’re saying that, that, you know, my right to smoke and blow smoke in your face is – it’s over your right to breathe clean air.


ANDRADE: I think that littering is one problem and the secondhand smoke it’s a different problem, and none of them are good. That’s the bottom line. And that’s, you know, that’s how – that’s the way of thinking that we’re trying to change. It’s all a part of the social change and it includes both things, that no littering and the secondhand smoke health problem part of the issue.

CAVANAUGH: And – And, go ahead, Debra.

KELLY: Yeah, I mean, you know, the fact that there’s cigarette butts is really – that’s just evidence that smoking is taking place, you know. Secondhand smoke is very well documented as dozens and dozens of carcinogens. 4,000 Californians, nonsmokers, every year die because of exposure to secondhand smoke. It can precipitate a heart attack in a nonsmoker and with less than 30 minutes of exposure. So, really, you know, the science is very solid. There’s been measurements if – you can alter an environment. And, obviously, it depends on how close you are to the person who’s smoking but the level of dangerous particulates can be 100 times higher if you’re standing within six feet of a smoker than if you’re standing in an open space with no smoking around. So, you know, what we need are very clear rules and regulations to protect everyone and so people will adjust to the fact that they can’t smoke at beaches and parks. And those areas should not be sanctuaries for people who want to smoke and who will endanger the health of children and other people nearby. I’m an asthmatic. I cannot be near people who smoke.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a question because Juan mentioned something that I think is very important to this discussion as we sort of wrap things up. There was a time, of course, when the idea of banning smoking in restaurants and bars was treated like the world was coming to an end, that we no longer – the bar owners would no longer be able to have their businesses and everything would collapse, that whole industry would collapse. And, of course, that, as far as I can see, did not happen. So is it just simply a question of it takes time for this to become something that’s accepted by the public? And how much time do you think it’s going to take?

KELLY: Yeah, it will take time. And, I mean, anyone who steps foot outside California in other states or other countries realizes that we have it pretty good here because we do have – we are working towards a smoke free world here. And so I think, you know, outdoor environments and shared-housing spaces are really the final frontiers of the secondhand – of really clearing our air of secondhand smoke. And so – And it’s just, as I said before, it’s just by, you know, when you’re dealing with airplanes and workplaces and restaurants and bars and so forth, they are enclosed. There are typically a lot of people there, and those people will speak up. And with parks, it’s a little bit different. And we do need to educate and empower nonsmokers to stand up for their rights for clean air as well.

CAVANAUGH: I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank my guests very much. Debra Kelly of the American Lung Association and Juan Andrade, community organizer with SAY San Diego, thanks so much for coming in and speaking with us. I want to let everyone know if we couldn’t hear your question or your comment on the air, please go online, And stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

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