November 4, 2015
NOTE: Publication for this story was not sought, as it was produced for a reporting local government class at the University of Texas at Austin.
By Kali Venable
AUSTIN—Fun Fun Fun Fest (FFF), a comedy and music showcase held Nov. 6-8, is the first festival to submit a request for designated smoking areas to City Council this year. Exceptions to the ordinance are gradually decreasing for public health reasons, according Sarah Hensley, director of the Parks and Recreation Department.
“All the others have slowly weaned themselves off [permitting smoking at festivals], so to speak. I have to say that Fun Fun Fun has reduced their request from five to three [designated areas]. So I think they’re doing the same and trying to sort of scale it back,” Hensley said.
Held at Auditorium Shores, the festival isn’t permitted to allow smoking under the citywide smoking ordinance. Passed in 2005 and amended in 2011, the ordinance bans smoking in all public parks. Exemptions can only be made with council approval, under City Code Section 10-6-3(A)(11).
In ordinance compliance, the festival submitted a map featuring the three designated smoking areas to City Council for approval. Max Gregor, FFF director of production, approximated each area to be 1,600-square-foot.
Dominic Patruzzi, a 23-year-old smoker Austin native who attended FFF last year, found the designated smoking areas to be ineffective.
“I don’t know if I think there is a point in designated areas’ [be]cause they weren’t preventing people from smoking elsewhere, like I am pretty sure I was smoking cigarettes everywhere,” Patruzzi said.
As a smoker who hates the habit, Patruzzi also thought the areas made smoking look too alluring.
“I remember them having a few E-cig tents which I thought was a little too promotional…there were designated smoking places that were set up like lounges. One even had really cool cars on display, which was pretty enticing, “ Patruzzi said.
Multiple reviews of last year’s FFF Fest on Yelp.com recall that Marlboro, Camel and American Spirit all had “lounges” around the parks where they were offering free cigarettes.
Ryan Leas, a reporter at Stereogum, who wrote “The 15 Most Memorable Moments at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013,” ranked the “Tobacco Illuminate” No. 3. In the article, Leas describes the tobacco lounges at the festival as “marketing ploys” where “they’re very strict about you not taking photos of the exterior or the interior of the lounges.”
Jennifer Sinski, a Giant Noise publicist representing FFF, declined comment on whether the designated smoking areas or any parts of the festival are sponsored by tobacco brands. Sinski says the festival submitted a request to be realistic about their attendees.
“We can’t answer for other festivals, but it could be that festivals don’t follow the ordinance. Point is, we followed what we believe to be the process for allowing smoking areas that is completely contemplated in code, knowing that we cannot police 20,000 from smoking in a park,” Sinski said.
Austin City Limits (ACL), held at Zilker Park in early October, is one of the festivals that did not submit a request for smoking areas this year. Instead, the festival deemed the entire park smoke-free.
University of Texas sophomore Rachel Holl, who attended ACL last month, said she respects FFF Fest’s request because at ACL smokers were “lighting up wherever they please.”
“Anyone who went to ACL can tell you that the smoking ban wasn’t enforced even remotely at Zilker. With that said, I think Fun Fun Fun should get kudos for actually complying with the city laws, instead of not designating areas and having kids and non-smokers breathing in cigarette smoke all over the place,” Holl said.
Council Member Sabino Renteria, who voted in support of FFF’s request, said that she supports designated smoking areas because smokers will smoke with or without them.
“I know that smokers, they have to have their cigarettes — and they do. I noticed even at ACL they were smoking at the park and taking a chance of getting a ticket. I believe if we provide them a safe location we wouldn’t have that problem…where people are just illegally hiding behind a corner somewhere smoking a cigarette, ” said Renteria.
Sheri Gallo, the only Council Member on the dais to vote against designated smoking areas for the festival, does not support making exceptions to the ordinance for any event requests.
“If we as a city have adopted an ordinance or policy that says smoking is not allowed in our parks, I think it is a little uncomfortable for me to grant permission to smoke to a commercial entity using our park for a function,” Gallo said.
“You know, this particular one [festival] has also come forward saying this is a family-friendly event and I think asking for an exception on our smoking policy… I’m just very uncomfortable with that,” Gallo added.
Children ages 10 and under have been granted free admission with an adult since FFF started in 2006, but this is the first year FFF has an area dedicated entirely to youth entertainment. The festival advertises the section of the park as the “Do512 Family’s Fun Lab.”
Currently, the smoking areas are not labeled on the map posted to the festival’s main website. Sinski declined to comment on why, or provide the distance between the family area and the nearest designated smoking areas.
At the City Council meeting on Oct. 22, Mayor Steve Adler said he doesn’t support smoking and would like to move towards a policy where it could be eliminated. Since these types of requests have been granted in past years, however, Adler felt uncomfortable going against the precedent.
Smoking areas will be implemented this weekend at Fun Fun Fun Fest with a 11-1 City Council vote.