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Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Los Angeles may snuff out smoking in parks

The Washington Post

LOS ANGELES — First they were kicked out of workplaces, then banned from bars and restaurants. The last place smokers here have left to light up is the outdoors, and now even that right could be restricted.

Los Angeles City Council members are considering a crackdown on smoking that would be the country's toughest: They may banish smokers from all public parks.

To groups advocating smokers' rights, news that one of the nation's smoggiest cities would consider such a move is a bit much.

"They're worried about a few wisps of secondhand smoke compared to the filthy L.A. air? That's ridiculous," said Enoch Ludlow, director of a national group fighting ordinances against smoking.

"There's no good reason for this. It's just a concentrated effort to keep demonizing one-fourth of the population."

But community leaders in Los Angeles say the bill before the council would have significant benefits.

"We're not trying to be harsh," said Sonya Vasquez, the chairwoman of a group called the Committee for Smoke-Free Parks, which represents about two dozen neighborhood groups. "We just want to create an environment that's healthy for the majority of citizens, especially in places where so many children play."

Such a step would not be entirely new. Dozens of U.S towns and a few large cities have imposed some limits on outdoor smoking. Still, most places have established only small no-smoking zones near building entrances, at beaches or zoos, or in parts of their public parks or plazas.

What Los Angeles is talking about is much broader. The proposal by council member Jan Perry would make every inch of the nearly 200 parks in this sprawling city off-limits to smokers and subject them to fines for lighting up. Perry said she hopes for a council vote on the issue by year's end.

But can another smoking ban be enforced? It's hard enough to police bars and nightclubs, where anti-smoking activists say too many patrons are getting away with lighting up. And overworked law-enforcement officers would not likely have much time to patrol park benches and picnic grounds.

Vasquez's group has collected several thousand petition signatures in support of the proposal. She contends a recent survey it conducted of 10,000 city residents showed great support for the ban and not just because people are worried about their lungs — they also are tired of picking cigarette butts out of children's sandboxes.

At a downtown park, some smokers reacted with disbelief, then outrage, to the potential ban.

"It's getting to the point where you can't smoke anywhere but home," said Jo Gallegos.

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