Rules against smoking in public are nothing new. But campground smoking remains the subject of flaming debates about personal rights in the great outdoors. As more states ban cigarette smoking in public, is it only a matter of time until your favorite campground does too?
Why public campground smoking bans are unlikely
When California became the first U.S. state to enact a state-wide indoor smoking ban in 1995, other states soon followed. But when it comes to outdoor smoking bans, even this Left Coast state holds back on punishing smokers. Most U.S. states leave it up to municipalities to determine where they want smokers to light up outside.
For example, only 100 of California’s cities have an outdoor smoking ban. In places like San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, smokers can’t light up in parking garages, stadiums, playgrounds, or transit centers. But they can still exhale tobacco at their campsites in state, county, and city park recreation areas.
The city of Golden, Colorado is taking a similar approach to other no-smoking cities. In 2014 the Denver Post reported that the Golden City Council “unanimously approved an ordinance to limit tobacco smoking and use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers in public spaces.” This means that campers at Golden’s city-owned Clear Creek Campground violate the city’s smoking laws by smoking on the campground’s adjacent river trail. But cigarette smoking at the campfire is still OK.
In 2014 the state of Oregon also outlawed smoking in most public spaces. Smokers can’t light up on state park trails, picnic areas, and any other public space except the coast. However they can indulge in “vehicles and personal camping units, campsites and portions of day use parks.”
Some countries have more stringent no-smoking bans than the U.S. For example, any RVng smokers who want to tour Australia by motorhome are limited in their travels. All national parks within New South Wales have campground smoking bans. Nobody can light up in picnic areas, campgrounds, accommodations, beaches, lookouts, walking tracks, or even while driving on park roads.
Private RV parks do it their way
Back in the U.S., some privately owned RV parks take matters into their own hands. J & H RV Park in Flagstaff, Arizona made national news when its owners decided to go smoke-free.
In a RV industry press release about the campground smoking ban, owners Jo Ann and Harvey Mickelson reported on their experience.
“The response has been incredibly positive,” Harvey Mickelson said. “I would say nearly half of the people who register tell me our non-smoking policy is why they came to our park. . . We’ve been turning away 10 to 12 people a day,” he explained.
The park has a small, isolated patio where smokers can light up. Otherwise, the entire property is off limits to tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Across the U.S., more states are enacting clean air laws to restrict smoking in public places. Outdoor smoking bans are rarely challenged in court, according to the Public Health Law Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Even so, odds are pretty good that most states won’t enact strict campground smoking bans.
Case in point: even Democrat Governor Jerry Brown Brown vetoed a 2016 anti-smoking bill. The law would have banned smoking in every inch of California’s 270 parks and beaches. “The complete prohibition in all parks and beaches is too broad,” he said to the L.A. Times. “A more measured—and less punitive—approach might be warranted,” he said.