Every Saturday for the past year and a half, a group of Escondido teenagers have been meeting at 8:00 in the morning to pick up cigarette butts strewn about 11 of Escondido’s city parks. So far, they’ve collected over 26,000 butts.
On December 10, the students brought the butts — enclosed in a plastic carrying case — to an Escondido City Council meeting in order to show how prevalent smoking is at the city’s parks; they want the council to reconsider a citywide ban on smoking.
The student group says that a ban will not only help the environment by reducing litter, but will remove the threat of ingestion of cigarette butts by young children and animals, protect parkgoers from secondhand smoke, and reduce the risk of fires. In addition to the 26,000 butts, they’ve collected 438 signatures from Escondido residents who would support such a ban.
In the past, the Escondido City Council has been reluctant to ban smoking for the reason of not wanting to impose blanket restrictions throughout the city. At a council meeting in May 2007, the council rejected the group’s proposal. The proposal, however, seems to be gaining support.
Councilmember Dick Daniels was amazed by the youth group’s determination but asked them to take their exhibit to the Community Services Department first, before an ordinance is presented to the council.
“What’s impressive is the specific number of butts. At some point, without making specific time promises, we’ll be looking at this, but I’m very impressed by the work that you’ve done here and the commitment and zeal you have for public health. It’s a good cause, and it’s something we’ll take a look at in the future. Keep those cigarette butts as a good exhibit.”
Not all councilmembers are in favor of a citywide ban.
“Government has the right to regulate, but when it comes to personal issues and personal behaviors, I have this philosophical disagreement with that,” said Councilmember Sam Abed. “To have blanket regulations, it really violates the rights of the people to smoke, and I think the smokers are becoming more sensitive to this issue.
However, Abed did say he would be willing to support limited restrictions, especially in the case of areas that are susceptible to fires.
For more on the tobacco-free movement in Escondido and other North County cities, visit the County Tobacco Control Project website at vistacommunityclinic.org.