"Behavior modification takes time," said a San Marcos city employee during a November 11 city council meeting. The behavior they would like to modify is to prevent smokers from lighting up in nondesignated areas and flicking their butts in city parks. In 2008, San Marcos city councilmembers tried to do just that when they approved an ordinance banning smoking on park trails as well as establishing designated areas where smokers could spark up.
So far, local health organizations and some councilmembers say the ordinance has been a success. Proof of that success took place at Woodland Park one Saturday afternoon in August. That day, volunteers searched the park for cigarette butts, finding a total of 74 butts tossed in planters, on sidewalks, parking lots, and on the grassy hills. A small number considering a similar event two years earlier, when volunteers collected 926 butts at the same location.
And while some claim the decrease is proof the ordinance is working, councilmember Chris Orlando isn't convinced. Orlando believes modifying the behavior is taking too much time. Instead of focusing on modifying the behavior, Orlando would like to modify the ordinance by removing the designated areas and turning the entire park, as well as a hundred-foot area surrounding it, into a smoke-free zone.
"I think the ban should be no smoking in parks," said Orlando after staff's presentation. "And while the butts are in the planters and in the parking lots, that's not...it's just not fair to me."
It's not just the fact that Orlando wants to outlaw smoking in city parks; he also wants the designated smoking area signs removed from sight. "These smoking areas are a blight on our parks, these signs, on that beautiful vista is a blight on the park. I think these smoking areas, they just ruin the whole nature of the park scenery and the park experience."
Former smoker and vice mayor Hal Martin didn't agree. "If they totally outlawed smoking, I would go hide behind a tree, I would hide behind a backstop, I would do whatever was necessary.... By saying no smoking, people are still going to smoke, you are just going to cause people to get creative."
Despite agreeing that designated smoking areas are needed, mayor Jim Desmond requested staff provide data from neighboring cities that decided for an all-out ban on smoking at city parks. After that data is collected, the city will compare the numbers as a way to see whether the designated areas deter smokers from flicking their butts on the ground.