Monday, November 20, 2006

The Folly of Belmont: PART I - Proposed Ordinance Would Create Disturbing Class Inequity

The Belmont (California) City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to draft an ordinance for consideration by the Council that would ban smoking in all indoor and outdoor areas of the city with the exception of detached, single-family homes and the possible additional exception of private cars. I have already explained why this proposal is unjustified from a public health perspective and why I think it goes too far and threatens the reputation and credibility of the tobacco control movement. Here, I consider a disturbing implication of the proposal in terms of the class inequity that it would produce.

The Rest of the Story

If enacted as presented to the public, this ordinance would have the effect of banning smoking completely among poor and lower middle-class residents of Belmont, while allowing smoking among wealthier residents.

By banning smoking completely outdoors and in all apartments, multi-family, and attached single-family housing, the ordinance would essentially ban smoking among anyone who is not wealthy enough to afford a detached, single-family home. Those who own a detached, single-family home could continue to smoke.

In other words, if this proposal is enacted, you will essentially have to buy your way into being able to smoke in Belmont. It will become a privilege of the rich, and the poor will have this right taken away from them. There is something very disturbing about a policy that regulates smoking differently among those who are poor and those who are wealthy. The policy would create a rather extreme class inequity.

The policy would essentially close Belmont's doors to poor and lower middle-class smokers. Smokers, or families that include a smoker, who cannot afford a detached, single-family home in Belmont would be deterred from moving to the city.

To be more realistic, the ordinance would actually ban smoking by everyone but the wealthy and upper middle-class residents of the city. The minimum price of a detached, single-family home that is now on the market in Belmont is $645,000. Not exactly chump change, but that's what you'd have to pay for the right to smoke in Belmont if the current proposal is enacted into law.

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