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Encinitas struggles with total smoking ban

If you don't have a yard, you will be smoking inside

Every sidewalk would be off-limits.
Every sidewalk would be off-limits.

The city of Encinitas has taken a step toward banning all public smoking of tobacco, leaving only private property or inside a moving vehicle for lighting up.

Smoking is already prohibited on beaches, parks, and trails. Now, the Encinitas Environmental Commission is recommending that the city take it to the streets.

"On every sidewalk, walking through downtown, North El Camino Real, Encinitas Boulevard, walking down the 101 - all the other public spaces within the city," would be off limits as well, said commissioner Mark O'Connor.

This time, it's not all about secondhand smoke - but plastic. While the health effects from smoke is one reason for the ban, the main focus is the plastic filters in cigarettes. It's a top polluter of the marine environment, and not just from beach litter. Flicked on a sidewalk, it can end up in the sea.

"Look down; you'll see this litter everywhere."

As proof, O'Connor showed the commission a one gallon container stuffed with his findings over just two days on walks around Encinitas - over 2,000 butts.

O'Connor proposed the idea of a citywide ban along with commissioner Katie Cramer after learning about the local impacts, and how the city of Manhattan Beach, for one, has enacted a full ban.

An ordinance could reduce the city's cleanup costs, a staff report said. Cities are required to maintain streets, storm drains, inlets, and other infrastructure. The State Water Resources Control Board requires cities to develop strategies to address trash in state waters, and by far the cheapest way is to reduce the use of plastics.

Encinitas city sign

That option allows the city to account for measures it adopts that target litter sources. Encinitas has banned plastic utensils, bags, Styrofoam, balloons, and plastic straws. An ordinance that bans the outdoor use of tobacco products will help keep yet another plastic item out of the storm drains.

"I think it's a wide perception among people that it's biodegradable," said commissioner Robert Switzler.

A state bill proposed in January 2022 would have banned the sale of all single-use tobacco products. In April, supporters felt betrayed when California's Single-Use Vape and Tobacco Ban was changed to remove cigarette filters and cigar plastic filter tips from the bill.

Now, with no state action on reducing cigarette butt pollution, O'Connor said it's up to cities.

According to data from the County Department of Health, 18 cities and the unincorporated areas ban or restrict smoking in parks, beaches, or trails. Coronado, Del Mar, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa, and Oceanside, restrict smoking on sidewalks.

But even the strictest allow it in some public spaces.

A staff report said that El Cajon has the most comprehensive restrictions of any city in the county, affecting multi-unit residence common areas, sidewalks, streets, plazas, stores, stadiums, taxi and buses lines, common areas of shopping malls and enclosed and unenclosed areas of hotels, businesses, restaurants, bars, and other public venues.

Encinitas passed its ban on smoking within 20 feet of city beaches, parks, trails or outdoor dining areas of an eating establishment in 2014. Another local rule in 2020 required signs at the point of purchase, stating that the sale of tobacco products to those under age 21 is prohibited by law. That year the city banned the sale or distribution of any flavored tobacco products.

But having been first to pass a plastic bag ban, commissioners are hopeful the city will extend the current rules.

The commission approved the ordinance as recommended, 4 to 1.

"Not allowing people to smoke in any public space in the whole city - I'm not on board with that," said dissenter Christian Adams.

The root of the problem is the manufacturers of the plastic filters, "and there's not much we can do as a body here to combat that," the commissioner said.

"I think it marginalizes people. I know smoking a lot of times is lower-income folks, and so if someone doesn't have a yard, now they're having to smoke inside."

He added that it's often the homeless who are smoking outside.

"They're going to get a ticket for smoking because they can't smoke in any public space, so I'm not for the way this is written. For someone who's walking their dog and wants to smoke a cigar, I feel like there should be spaces where people can smoke."

He agreed with others who suggested more outreach and education should come before a ban, which the city council will decide.

Commissioner Cramer said the enforcement mechanism should be worked on further. "I do definitely see the homeless population typically smoking and we don't want to penalize those people economically."

She pointed out that even though smoking on the beach has long been banned in Encinitas, "every day I'm on the beach people are smoking, vaping - teenagers on the beach vaping."

If the city were to become tobacco-free, it would go a long way toward prohibiting smoking on the beach too, she said.

"Because if you're smoking on the street, smoking down the steps to Swami's - you're just gonna bust it out and keep pulling the vape out on the beach, too."

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Every sidewalk would be off-limits.
Every sidewalk would be off-limits.

The city of Encinitas has taken a step toward banning all public smoking of tobacco, leaving only private property or inside a moving vehicle for lighting up.

Smoking is already prohibited on beaches, parks, and trails. Now, the Encinitas Environmental Commission is recommending that the city take it to the streets.

"On every sidewalk, walking through downtown, North El Camino Real, Encinitas Boulevard, walking down the 101 - all the other public spaces within the city," would be off limits as well, said commissioner Mark O'Connor.

This time, it's not all about secondhand smoke - but plastic. While the health effects from smoke is one reason for the ban, the main focus is the plastic filters in cigarettes. It's a top polluter of the marine environment, and not just from beach litter. Flicked on a sidewalk, it can end up in the sea.

"Look down; you'll see this litter everywhere."

As proof, O'Connor showed the commission a one gallon container stuffed with his findings over just two days on walks around Encinitas - over 2,000 butts.

O'Connor proposed the idea of a citywide ban along with commissioner Katie Cramer after learning about the local impacts, and how the city of Manhattan Beach, for one, has enacted a full ban.

An ordinance could reduce the city's cleanup costs, a staff report said. Cities are required to maintain streets, storm drains, inlets, and other infrastructure. The State Water Resources Control Board requires cities to develop strategies to address trash in state waters, and by far the cheapest way is to reduce the use of plastics.

Encinitas city sign

That option allows the city to account for measures it adopts that target litter sources. Encinitas has banned plastic utensils, bags, Styrofoam, balloons, and plastic straws. An ordinance that bans the outdoor use of tobacco products will help keep yet another plastic item out of the storm drains.

"I think it's a wide perception among people that it's biodegradable," said commissioner Robert Switzler.

A state bill proposed in January 2022 would have banned the sale of all single-use tobacco products. In April, supporters felt betrayed when California's Single-Use Vape and Tobacco Ban was changed to remove cigarette filters and cigar plastic filter tips from the bill.

Now, with no state action on reducing cigarette butt pollution, O'Connor said it's up to cities.

According to data from the County Department of Health, 18 cities and the unincorporated areas ban or restrict smoking in parks, beaches, or trails. Coronado, Del Mar, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa, and Oceanside, restrict smoking on sidewalks.

But even the strictest allow it in some public spaces.

A staff report said that El Cajon has the most comprehensive restrictions of any city in the county, affecting multi-unit residence common areas, sidewalks, streets, plazas, stores, stadiums, taxi and buses lines, common areas of shopping malls and enclosed and unenclosed areas of hotels, businesses, restaurants, bars, and other public venues.

Encinitas passed its ban on smoking within 20 feet of city beaches, parks, trails or outdoor dining areas of an eating establishment in 2014. Another local rule in 2020 required signs at the point of purchase, stating that the sale of tobacco products to those under age 21 is prohibited by law. That year the city banned the sale or distribution of any flavored tobacco products.

But having been first to pass a plastic bag ban, commissioners are hopeful the city will extend the current rules.

The commission approved the ordinance as recommended, 4 to 1.

"Not allowing people to smoke in any public space in the whole city - I'm not on board with that," said dissenter Christian Adams.

The root of the problem is the manufacturers of the plastic filters, "and there's not much we can do as a body here to combat that," the commissioner said.

"I think it marginalizes people. I know smoking a lot of times is lower-income folks, and so if someone doesn't have a yard, now they're having to smoke inside."

He added that it's often the homeless who are smoking outside.

"They're going to get a ticket for smoking because they can't smoke in any public space, so I'm not for the way this is written. For someone who's walking their dog and wants to smoke a cigar, I feel like there should be spaces where people can smoke."

He agreed with others who suggested more outreach and education should come before a ban, which the city council will decide.

Commissioner Cramer said the enforcement mechanism should be worked on further. "I do definitely see the homeless population typically smoking and we don't want to penalize those people economically."

She pointed out that even though smoking on the beach has long been banned in Encinitas, "every day I'm on the beach people are smoking, vaping - teenagers on the beach vaping."

If the city were to become tobacco-free, it would go a long way toward prohibiting smoking on the beach too, she said.

"Because if you're smoking on the street, smoking down the steps to Swami's - you're just gonna bust it out and keep pulling the vape out on the beach, too."

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