By THOMAS WATKINS
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 13, 2006; 9:37 AM
SAN DIEGO -- Worried about the health effects of secondhand smoke and sick of cleaning up discarded cigarettes, San Diego has banned smoking at its beaches and parks. The city joins nearly 2,300 other municipalities across the nation that have barred smoking in a variety of public places.
In California, smoking bans have caught fire in beach communities. At least 35 cities, including Malibu, Santa Monica and Long Beach, now have ordinances to keep smokers from lighting up on the sand.
Several smokers at San Diego's Ocean Beach welcomed the ban, which was passed late Tuesday.
"I think it's a good idea, as long as they don't make us stop drinking," said beach resident Libby Brignon, a smoker who is fed up with finding butts in the sand.
Solana Beach, about 20 miles north of San Diego, became the first beach town in California to enact a smoking ban two years ago. Officials have been pleased with the results.
"You have to look really hard to find a cigarette butt," City Manager David Ott said.
According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, 17 states now have laws in effect to regulate smoking in public places. That means 44.5 percent of the U.S. population is restricted from puffing at bars, restaurants and other locations.
Many employers have voluntarily barred smoking in enclosed spaces. Even countries long seen as bastions for smoking, such as Japan and Spain, are seeing local bans.
"Nonsmokers are fed up and fighting for their rights to clean air," said Robert Berger, president of Healthier Solutions Inc., a nonsmokers rights group.
Berger believes a statewide ban on smoking at beaches and parks is inevitable in California, despite the narrow defeat of an attempt by the Legislature to do it in 2004.
Phone calls to two smokers rights advocacy groups _ The Smokers Club Inc., and Forces International _ were not immediately returned.
San Diego City Council President Scott Peters said parks were included in the council vote to reduce fire risks. The measure will take effect by mid-August.
Volunteers for beach cleanups often find thousands of cigarette butts, especially after big holidays like July 4, Peters said.
Some environmentalists said they fear that smokers will now congregate on streets near the beach and that butts flicked on sidewalks could get washed into the ocean.
Stefanie Sekich, of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said the organization is spending thousands of dollars to install theft-proof ashtrays in those locations.