Seattle Parks and Recreation opts for smoke-free parks

Acting Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Christopher Williams decided on Friday to ban smoking in all Seattle parks. Just yesterday evening, the Board of Park Commissioners voted 8-0 to recommend that the Superintendent enact a smoking ban.

The new rule would expand the existing smoking ban from within 25 feet of another park visitor to no smoking on any publically accessible park land. The smoking ban takes effect in 30 days.

The ban will be enforced by trained park staff who will issue verbal and written warnings. Park staff will have no authority to issue fines or exclude smokers from parks.

“Our mission as a park and recreation agency is to provide healthful and welcoming places for all residents to enjoy,” said Christopher Williams. “The smoking ban is about protecting the rights of everyone to have a smoke-free environment—particularly in parks, where communities gather to recreate, enjoy the outdoors or exercise.”

Seattle’s action follows similar bans in more than 1,000 other cities and jurisdictions nationwide, including Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland.

Enforcement of the new rule would primarily be a matter of education. The enforcement protocol for the new rule was developed in 2012 in conjunction with the Racial Disparity Project (then part of the Defender Association, now part of its advocacy successor organization in the Public Defender Association). This protocol does not include excluding people from a park because they are smoking.

Park Rangers would approach smokers to ask, “Did you know smoking is not allowed in parks?” and provide them with information on where they can smoke and a resource card with information about the policy and resources for help in quitting tobacco. The next level of enforcement would be a verbal warning. Seattle Parks expects a large percentage of smokers to voluntarily comply with these requests or verbal warnings.

The Park Board held a public hearing on the proposed ban on April 16 and a public comment period on the proposal ended on May 7. In response to comments at the hearing and to written comments expressing concerns that the ban would have a disproportionate impact on homeless people of color, Seattle Parks and Recreation agreed to mitigate the impact of the ban with the following provisions:

  1. No citation: The revised proposal eliminated the infraction citation (which has a $27 fee) that was originally proposed as part of the smoking ban enforcement strategy.
  2. Right to Dispute: Parks will create a process by which individuals can dispute a written trespass warning given for smoking in a park. This process will be included in a public information card to be handed out by either Police or Park Rangers when issuing a written trespass warning for smoking along with information on where people can smoke and information about smoking cessation programs.
  3. Enforcement Monitoring Committee: Parks will establish an Enforcement Monitoring Committee composed of 3-4 people, including a member of the Board of Park Commissioners, a representative from a human rights or civil rights organization, and a homeless advocate to review and monitor the impacts of the smoking ban. The committee will meet every 90 days so that any unintended consequences can be addressed quickly.

“We received many thoughtful comments from the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Seattle Human Rights Commission and others and we decided to alter our original proposal,” said Williams. “When many voices participate in conversations that shape public policy, the result is always better.”

The smoking ban is supported by several major partners of Seattle Parks and Recreation for health and environmental reasons.

“Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease both locally and in the United States, so it makes sense to take actions that promote health and healthy environments in our public spaces,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Interim Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“There’s no safe level of secondhand smoke,” said Matt DeGooyer, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Washington. “We are very excited to see Seattle Parks and Recreation taking this step. Actions like this continue the steady progress toward de-normalizing smoking and tobacco use, making outdoor spaces a safer environment for impressionable youth and anyone who enjoys breathing clean, healthy air.”

In addition to being unhealthful for people, discarded cigarette butts are a major source of park litter.

Barbara Clabots, Volunteer Coordinator for the Seattle Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, expressed her support for smoke-free parks on behalf of Seattle recreators. She noted that “Seattle already knows plastic isn’t biodegradable, but what many people don’t realize is that cigarette filters are actually plastic and fatally toxic to fish. We see this at every beach cleanup; cigarettes are the most commonly littered item not only in Seattle, but around the world. Just recently at Surfrider’s Earth Day event, volunteers picked up approximately 3,000 cigarette butts at Alki Beach in just two hours. Smoke-free parks will reduce cigarette litter that is unhealthy for our parks and leaches toxins into Puget Sound. Further, we will have better air quality for all recreators, from runners to volleyball players.”

The smoking ban will take effect in 30 days, after Seattle Parks and Recreation files the change to the Parks Code of Conduct with the City Clerk’s Office and posts a notice of the change in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.

For more details about the smoking ban, please see this briefing paper.