Smoking ban would include open spaces

Those who can remember smoking sections in restaurants should know where to stake out turf in Newport Beach parks.

That's if the city approves newly proposed smoking restrictions that would ban smoking in parks and open spaces. Already, smokers are barred from lighting up on beaches, piers and the boardwalk.

The proposed regulations come as the city also is considering banning noisy leaf blowers and while cities across the U.S. pass broader smoking regulations. Smokers, whose habit has long been considered harmful to others' health, continue to be targets for broader government restrictions.

"We are going to say in areas where people gather to relax and recreate that's not an area where you can smoke," said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Affairs Committee. "I don't think we're asking too much."

If passed by the committee, the rules would ban smoking in public parks, except in designated areas. Acting Planning Director Jim Campbell said that would probably mean signs designating certain areas as permitted for smoking. They would be away from sports courts, baseball diamonds, playgrounds or areas of high fire risk, if the regulations are passed as written.

The other category in the ban would be open spaces and nature preserves, including their trails and pathways. For instance, bird watchers wouldn't be able to smoke as they gazed at great blue herons in the Upper Newport Nature Preserve.

"The two issues they're trying to address are an increased risk of fire and the health issue," Campbell said.

It's a slippery slope, though, smoking defenders and libertarians say.

"Today it's tobacco," said Annie Hallajian, owner of Newport Tobacco in Fashion Island. "Tomorrow it will just be something else. The whole thing is just ridiculous."

Council members and the committee members have said they don't want to hurt restaurants and bars by prohibiting smoking on outdoor patios, as Los Angeles and other cities have done.

"But the parks are free and they're public property," Gardner said.

When the environmental committee meets Monday it will consider the extended ban, and then will make a recommendation to the City Council.

No matter the outcome, smokers will find a way, Hallajian said: "It's a big country. You can always find a place to smoke."

The Environmental Quality Affairs Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the Police Department auditorium, 870 Santa Barbara Drive, Newport Beach.

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