City Should Lighten Up on This Smoke Ban

For those of us paid exorbitant sums of money to muse about life’s vexing issues, let me suggest that the government help out with a simple edict: Ban smoking.

Would that be so hard? Surely, some previously unused moral value could be cited as justification.

If Uncle Sam would play ball, then people like me wouldn’t have to spend our nights tossing and turning over the decision Laguna Hills made last week to ban smoking in city parks. Come on, I need my sleep.

The government (and its state and local offspring) are already taking baby steps. Thirty-three states have increased cigarette taxes since 2002, according to the American Heart Assn. At least eight states have passed laws outlawing smoking in most workplaces, with restaurant patrons and employees being the most obvious beneficiaries. Hundreds of American cities have enacted similar ordinances, the heart association says.


So, with that we-hate-smoking momentum, why not go all the way? Since the federal government hasn’t banned smoking, why should we have to gnash our teeth over city governments prohibiting smoking in a public park -- and fining offenders $100, as Laguna Hills proposes.

Exposing yourself in a park? Yep, that’s illegal. Selling drugs? Illegal. Smoking? Still legal. Some very nice people do it.

Laguna Hills Mayor Joel Lautenschleger was on the short end of the 3-2 City Council vote last week that would put the ban in place. The issue comes up for a second reading next month.

“I hate to say it, but people have a right to smoke,” Lautenschleger says. “I have a hospital, a convalescent rehabilitation center in Costa Mesa, and state law requires that patients have a right to smoke.”

They do it in outdoor patio areas, but the mayor makes the point that being a smoker doesn’t automatically make you a lawbreaker.

At least, not yet. “I’m totally against smoking,” Lautenschleger says. “I know it’s bad. I’ve never smoked, and, if I did, I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to it.” However, he quickly adds, there’s a way to go about things.

The mayor is disturbed that his three colleagues on the council simply added the park ban to an existing city ordinance that bans smoking in public places. He says the park issue should be subject to the same kind of public comment and deliberation as the original ban.

I support bans in restaurants and bars and enclosed places. Those are venues where captive audiences can’t escape other people’s smoke.


But unless Laguna Hills has put retractable roofs over its parks, like some baseball teams do, they are open-air facilities. And they are public places. Cigarette smokers help pay for and maintain them.

I know about the second-hand smoking reports. The National Cancer Institute’s up-to-the-minute data suggest that secondhand smoke harms others. Several public health agencies have identified secondhand smoke as a carcinogen that, among other groups, is a significant risk to babies up to 18 months of age -- in other words, people who might be in strollers in city parks.

So, there’s a debate to be had about smoking in the parks. I just don’t think it should be directed from Laguna Hills City Hall, where the council majority would have police enforcing smoking bans. “I can see one guy one day walking across the park and 10 cops after him,” Lautenschleger says with semiseriousness.

I’m with the nonsmoking mayor on this one, but I need resolution.


The feds could do it, but they probably won’t. So, in the spirit of short-term compromise, how about this semistep for the three-member council majority: Make it illegal to smoke in the park, but only on days when the wind isn’t blowing.


Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at An archive of his recent columns is at