Citing potential fire dangers and concerns over the health risks posed by secondhand smoke, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved legislation that would prohibit smokers from lighting up in municipal parks.
The move came nearly three months after a blaze charred roughly 20% of Griffith Park, threatening such landmarks as the Griffith Observatory and the Los Angeles Zoo. Authorities believe the fire was sparked by a man who had fallen asleep while smoking.
"People want this," said City Councilman Tom LaBonge, a co-sponsor of the bill whose 4th District includes the park. "Public health is the key, and we all know the dangers of smoking.... The public who do choose to smoke will have to find a spot free of bothering everybody else."
The City Council voted 12 to 0 to expand an existing ordinance that bans smoking at the city's beaches and playgrounds to include as many as 390 parks and recreational facilities.
The new ordinance will take effect 31 days after it is signed into law by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Officials plan to put up "no smoking" signs around parks in coming weeks, and violators may receive citations of up to $250, said Deputy City Atty. Adrienne Khorasanee.
Smoking will still be allowed on city-run golf courses and in certain designated areas, including the Greek Theatre, the Autry National Center and the zoo. Hollywood filmmakers are still allowed to have actors smoke on camera but will need a special permit from the Department of Recreation and Parks.
The new ordinance is similar to legislation already in place in cities and counties throughout California, including San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Contra Costa County, said Serena Chen, policy director of the American Lung Assn. of California.
As part of their campaign, anti-tobacco groups cite a study from Stanford University released in May that measured the risk of secondhand smoke outdoors. The report concluded that outdoor smoke could pose a risk to nonsmokers nearby.
"Contrary to some people's beliefs, smoke does not go up in the air and disappear when you're smoking outside," Chen said, citing the study. "Smoke, depending on the climate, moves around.... Outdoor smoke is not safe."
But some smokers said the city was overreacting.
"I'm not killing anybody but myself," said Jeffrey Thorbs of Westwood, 42, while puffing on a Black and Mild cigar in MacArthur Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Mark Sterrett, 47, another smoker at the park, said the City Council and police should have more important things to do than go after those who light up outdoors.
"It is an infringement on my civil rights," said Sterrett, also a Westwood resident.
The cities of Calabasas, Santa Monica and Burbank have already moved to ban outdoor smoking.
In June, the Beverly Hills City Council passed an ordinance banning smoking in outdoor dining areas.
LaBonge said he hoped that the Hollywood film industry would also address the smoking issue. Some in the industry already appear to be doing so.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said last month that the studio would no longer depict smoking in its movies, and officials of the Motion Picture Assn. of America said in May that it would consider smoking as a major factor in film ratings.