Local governments have reservations about the Bureau of Health Promotion’s (BHP) plan to make public parks smoke-free environments, saying it may be hard to enforce a smoking ban because of a lack of resources and manpower.
The bureau notified local governments late last month that public parks created under urban planning projects must enforce a smoking ban except for in designated smoking areas.
According to bureau’s letter, the policy for smoke-free space is stipulated in the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法), Article 16 Section 1, which states that “outdoor space for the public’s leisure and recreational use … must ban smoking.” It said violators could be fined between NT$2,000 and NT$10,000.
Health authorities estimate that in Taipei alone there are about 1,000 public parks, natural green spaces, woodlands and outdoor plazas that would fall under the new smoking ban.
While the bureau did not give an implementation date in its letter, it has held meetings with local officials to explain the policy.
Local governments responded by saying a lot of preparatory work would be needed before the policy could be implemented.
One local official said there are many different kinds of parks and most have several entry and exit points, while there are no clearly marked jurisdiction boundaries for most of the national parks, riverside parks and large natural recreational spaces.
Several municipal representatives said preparations such as putting up signs, assigning patrol units and training recruits, all take time.
Noting that most local governments do not have the extra law enforcement personnel to assign to patrol the parks for smokers, they suggested the central government wait until the preparatory efforts are complete and then phase in the policy gradually.
Lin Li-ju (林莉茹), head of the health promotion division of Taipei City Government’s Department of Health, said in the city’s 32 designated smoke-free public parks, fines have been issued for 29 violations this year.
To enforce the smoking ban in outdoor spaces, borough wardens and district offices have to train volunteers to patrol the areas and give guidance, while health authorities also need to make spot checks, Lin said.
“So if all the city’s 1,000 public parks are to enforce the smoking ban, we will need a great deal of additional manpower,” she said.
A smoker surnamed Wang (王), who has smoked for a decade, said: “Where do they intend to force smokers to go? We only just got used to the ban on indoor smoking, now we cannot even smoke in the public parks.”
Lin Ching-li (林清麗) of the John Tung Foundation, an anti-smoking lobbying group, said the bureau’s plan was well-intended since public parks are used by the elderly, mothers with children and people with disabilities.
“However, the government should set priorities. The target should be to enforce the ban on indoor smoke-free facilities first,” she said.
Lin Ching-li suggested to setting up designated smoking zones in outdoor spaces where smokers could light up.